Thursday, 20 August 2015

Metal under tension

A quickie update.

This past weekend Mi Hermano Chofer Jonesy and I popped over the Pennines into the Land of Mordor for a day of gaming with an assorted band of reprobates, including T'uther Chris, Marvin the Arvn and No-Nickname Tony.  In addition to assorted card/board games, I persuaded the guys to have a go at AirWar C21.

The scenario was an obvious continuation of the last Paradiso game - with both sides stalemated on the ground, both sides sent ground attack aircraft with fighter escorts to try to break the deadlock.  A beermat-sized target area was placed in the centre of the table, and any damage points caused by ground attacks made in that zone counted as victory points.  Culo Raton sent four Shenyang F6s loaded for ground strikes with rocket pods, with an escort of four Mig-21s, while the Paradisan Air Force rolled up with their four Super Tucanos escorted by a flight of four F5E Tiger IIs.

To reflect the relatively small numbers of aircraft available to third-world/developing airforces, I ruled that the loss of any jet aircraft would equate to -5 victory points - in a situation where a single aircraft might represent 10% or more of a nation's air force, it makes sense to encourage players to conserve their forces and avoid "banzai attacks".  Because they are much cheaper and easily replaced, I ruled that the Super Tucano turboprops only cost -1 victory point if lost (which I thought slightly compensated for their slower speed and inferior air-to-air combat capability.

It's always interesting to watch other people play a game for the first time and form their own opinions about how to do things.  The Paradiso players both decided to try out Special Manoeuvres in the second turn of the game before the opposing sides had made contact.  Unfortunately a bad run of dice rolls meant that all the F5Es failed.  Two immediately went into stalls which took several turns to recover from, and one of the other two presented its tailpipe to an oncoming Culo Raton Mig-21, who took advantage of the situation and scored the first kill of the game.

As expected a large cluster of airplanes converged on the target area, but it was at this point that the Culo Raton players revealed their fiendish strategy.  They chose to forgo ground attacks with their Shenyang F6s which instead used their guns to join in the air-to-air combat.  The Tucanos all managed to reach the target area and unload their rockets, but two of them fell to the combined gunfire of the Culo Raton planes.  Ironically, the remaining two Tucanos had a Mig-21 fly right in front of them and even with their puny .30 cal machine guns were able to cripple the jet, which limped home.

The battle devolved into a big hairy furball, but the Paradisans never quite got back into the game and withdrew once the Tiger IIEs had expended their Sidewinders.  This left the Culo Raton aircraft free to bombard the target area unopposed.  Having splashed one Tiger and two Tucanos at the cost of only one Mig21 damaged, they were easily the clear victors.

Everyone had a good time, except possibly No-Nickname Tony, whose lower lip may have been wobbling a bit on losing his F5E so early on.  Being only the first proper game we'd played with the rules, we got a few key points wrong - we had planes doing Special Manoeuvres at Low Altitude and making attacks while doing "Break Turn" manoeuvres, both of which are no-nos.  The consensus of the other players was that Special Manoeuvres were on the whole a waste of time, a conclusion they reached after the disasterous Paradisan second turn.  Personally I'm inclined to disagree: I think a successful manoeuvre can win you a killing shot, just as a failed manoeuvre at the wrong time can leave you stranded in someone's sights.  Jonesy favoured doing nothing but Break Turns (a relatively easy move which let you make 75 degree turns instead of 45 degree ones, without too excessive a penalty for failure) but that was before we realised that you couldn't use weapons in the phase you did a Break Turn.

Everyone agreed that the Paradisan's had brought a knife to a gun fight with their Super Tucanos.  While they may be great counter-insurgency ground attack craft, they were a positive liability in an air-combat environment.  The sooner that Paradiso takes delivery of those ex-Israeli A4 Skyhawks, the better!

We also agreed that the ex-Soviet gear seemed to have all the advantages - The Mig-21bis carries four missiles compared to the F5E's two (according to the standard load), just as the F6s carried twice as many rockets as the Tucano.  I'd tried to equip all sides with weapons dating from around the mid-80s, and in the case of the Paradisan Sidewinders I'd made them the export-model Sidewinder-Ps rather than the much more powerful domestic Sidewinder-Ms available in that era.  I'd done so deliberately because I wanted both sides to be using rear-180 aspect missiles.  I'm going to have to go back to the airplane stats and do a bit more balancing work in setting up furture scenarios.

One last thing that I found strange - during my solo games I'd used a pair of set-squares (visible in the photos in the last post) for measuring angles - the angles you most need to use are 30, 45 and 60 degrees, all represented by corners on the set-squares, while a high-mobility Break Turn can be measured by putting a 45 degree and 30 degree corner next to eachother.  For the game this Sunday I went to the trouble of printing off copies of the turning circle from the rules.
For some reason though, the players did not get along with these at all.  And we're talking a relatively clever bunch of people here.  But despite it being as simple as "High mobility planes normally turn H, if doing a Break Turn they turn HBT", the turn circles fell by the wayside to be replaced by some truly dubious "eyeballing" of turns.  Then someone hit upon the idea of using a square D6 as a sort of 45 degree turn indicator (if you line it up with the flat front of the flying base, then the corners are pointing 45 degrees)  I'm beginning to think that I might be better off picking up half a dozen cheap "back to school" geometry sets for use with this game.

Applying the Culo Raton victory (on behalf of the Farmers' Revolt) to our ongoing campaign rules, I think the capture of the fuel depot from the previous land battle will give them control of a Secure Supply of Food and Materiel.  That leaves the campaign status as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko. The Bridge at El Humber. The Goodwill Of The People, Secure supply of food and materiel.
Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. The Airfield at Los Anillcamino. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant
Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.  

I think I'm going to fight this particular campaign thread until one side has just twice as many resources as their opponent, before having a UN enforced ceasefire reset the situation.  Now that Culo Raton has become involved I don't want things to escalate into all-out war too quickly!

Anyhoo, this post has taken far longer than I'd planned, and I've not even managed to mention the care package I received from Carl of SoloWargamingInTheUK.  More of that in a future post.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Gonna take a ride into the danger zone.

With the escalation of tensions between the Caribbean island nations of San Paradiso and Culo Raton, both nations have placed their respective Air Forces on high states of alert.

The Fuerza Ariale de Republico Paradiso is small and poorly equipped by western military standards, however compared to other Caribbean nations it represents a significant force to be reckoned with.  For its primary air-superiority fighter, Paradiso operates a dozen or so of the venerable Northrop F5E Tiger II, a 50 year old design which thanks to a series of avionics upgrades and modernisation refits remains a capable and credible threat well into the 21st century.  Although normally utilised as an interceptor/air superiority fighter, the Tiger II can be equipped with Paveway II and Mk82 bombs for a ground attack role.

Regular ground attack, counter insurgency and border patrol duties normally fall upon the Embraer EMB314 Super Tucanos.  The Brazilian turboprop trainer/light attack aircraft excels at close ground support, with it's acrobatic agility and long loiter times compared to jet fighters.  They may be no match for jet fighters in air-to-air combat, but since they are mostly employed against local insurgents and narco-traffickers.

Bringing up the rear of the formation are four A4 Skyhawks, recently purchased from Israel and not yeat operational.  Another veteran airframe that's still effective on today's battlefield, the A4s will represent a significant improvement in Paradiso's surface attack capabilities (including anti-shipping strikes) in an aircraft that can actually hold its own in a dogfight.

As a whole, the Paradiso air forces are in dire need of modernisation.  Countermeasures like chaff and flares are not universally fitted, and the standard air-to-air missile is the older, less capable AIM-9P model. Ground attack weapons are mostly unguideded bombs and rockets, with a handful of laser-guided Paveway bombs available for the F5Es.  And of course, the small size of the air force means that any aircraft losses are felt keenly.  The loss of two airframes might represent 10% or more of the available fleet.

Meanwhile the forces of the Culo Raton Ariale Patrole are equally ready to repel their Imperialist neighbours.

Like any good Communist dictatorship, Culo Raton operates mostly ex-Warsaw Pact or Chinese built equipment, often buying third or fourth-hand hand-me-downs from former Soviet client states.  Their fleet of MiG-21s have been extensively modernised and brought up to the MiG-21bis standard.  Primarily used as interceptors and air-superiority fighters, they can be equipped with an austere ground-attack capability.

The air force also has a handful of ancient Sukhoi SU-7 Fitter fighter/bombers.  Considered hopelessly obsolete everywhere else in the world, they still offer Culo Raton a significant ground-strike capability.

The Chinese built Shenyang F6, extensively modernised copies of the MiG-19, make up Culo Raton's primary ground attack capabilities.  Munitions are limited to unguided rockets and bombs, but a nation under as many arms embargos as Culu Raton has to make do with what it can acquire.  In a pinch, the F6 can be equipped for air-to-air combat, but would most likely be outclassed in that role.

So those are the aerial forces I've assembled for the modern Imagi-Nation action between San Paradiso and Culo Raton.  I've deliberately gone in most cases for out of date kit nearing the end of its operational lifetime (apart from the Super Tucanos, which are modern but inexpensive) but apart from the SU-7s I believe all these aircraft are still in active service with at least one nation in the real world.  Mig21 workhorses are still everywhere, Argentina is getting its fleet of A4s a brand new refit from Lockheed with avionics lifted from the F16, while the F5E remains the primary aircraft of the Swiss air force.

After looking at some of the options available, the rules I'm leaning towards are Air War C21 by Wessex Games (available as PDF from Wargame Vault).  I've had a couple of solitaire games and the rules look very good, doing a good job of abstracting the third dimension.  In a dogfight, you have the choice between moving normally, which is a simple half-move/turn/half move/turn based on your aircraft's manoeuvrability rating.  Alternatively you can attempt a Special Manoeuvre, pushing the flight envelope and theoretically involving the third dimension and either a loss or gain in speed.  For example an Immelman manoeuvre, which in real life resolves a half loop upwards followed by a roll to bring the aircraft upright again, in AW:C21 this allows you to make a half move then turn to face any direction, with a drop in speed.  The downside is that these manoeuvres require a roll to complete successfully and a failure can result in unexpected movement, greater than normal speed gains/losses and place you at a disadvantage against incoming fire.  If the results of a manoeuvre, success or fail, takes you over your airframe's maximum speed you take damage as the plane tears itself apart.  If  you drop below the minimum speed, you go into a stall and are no longer flying, but fighting to recover control of your aircraft as you plummet towards the ground.  At best this makes you easy prey to enemy aircraft, at worst you run the risk of fireballing into the ground.

The Special Manoeuvres are definitely the game winners/losers.  You can fly around doing normal moves in perfect safety and will probably find it quite difficult to get into firing position against your enemy.  Or you can take a chance on a Special Manoeuvre which might put you on your enemy's six, or if you fail leave you hanging in his gunsights.  Energy Management, a key feature of Air Combat Manoeuvering (or "dogfighting" to you and me) is also represented as you need to carefully manage the speed gains and losses from manoeuvring in order to keep within the flight envelope.  Too many fancy manoeuvres might leave you slow and energy-deficient just at the time you need to manoeuvre to avoid incoming fire.

In summary of all the air combat games I've played over the years, this one comes the closest to feeling like real flight, without tracking the third dimension.  I'm looking forward to trying out the rules on a live human opponent .

Meanwhile work on the air forces' 1/72 counterparts continues apace.  While I just about managed to hand-paint roundels and flags on the 1/300th aircraft, I think I'm going to try making some decals for the 1/72 aircraft.  I've also settled on a flight stand design that I'm very happy with, and as I'd expected, the 1/72 aircraft look absolutely fine flying over 28mm troops on the ground.  Pictures and more reports to follow.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Welcome to my secret lair on Skullcrusher Mountain

So three years back, I was experimenting with making high, rocky hills with limited paths across them.  I only completed a couple, but I've found them useful for representing significant, impassable hill terrain.

Around the same time, I came into possession of a number of Mega-Bloks pirate playsets, cheap £5 things containing maybe a rowboat and a small island, each of which came in its own clamshell case with the front shaped like a pirate skull.

I had to find a way to use one of those skulls, they were just too good to pass up.

Starting with one skull, I sawed the top off flat.  Fixing it to some scrap MDF, I then built up a hill shape around it using scrap polystyrene.  The hill was made partially hollow, with a cave behind the skull face and a raised floor to allow figures to take up firing positions at the eysockets.  To allow troops to climb onto the top of the piece, I added a winding path around the back of the hill, similar to that on the earlier rocky hills.

The hill was glued, pinned with cocktail sticks, and shoved in a cupboard to dry.

Three years later...

Yes, I said three years later.  I got distracted by Real Life (tm) and forgot about this until about a month ago when I ventured into the outside cupboard and found it again.  This week I decided to finally finish it off.

To start with, there was a major gap between the left top of the skull and the polystyrene "cap" above it, due to my rough cutting job being uneven.  I built this up with greenstuff to the skull had a flat, relatively even rim.  I then coated all the polystyrene in filler to give it a rocky texture.  Then I gave the filler a coat of diluted PVA to reinforce it, before giving the whole lot a coating of black textured masonry paint.  I use this as a basecoat on all my polystyrene hills, as it toughens them and adds a little texture.  After that it was just a matter of drybrushing various shades of grey, adding sand for the paths and flocking for grass and moss.




I'm really pleased with how this has come out.  Obviously it's more suited for fantasy, pirate or pulp games, acting as a scenario objective point rather than generic terrain, so it's only ever going to see limited use.  But I'm sure somewhere on Paradiso here's a "Skull Cave" tourist attraction just waiting to be fought over.  After making so much basic and "practical" terrain, it was nice to work on a totally whimsical piece like this.  Every wargamer shold treat themselves to a "Skull Cave" once in a while.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

I was born in a crossfire hurricane

So this weekend was the forty-fifth anniversary of my being dragged, kicking and screaming into this world.  Attempts to organise a true Big Birthday Bash fell apart as one friend after another made their excuses until we were left with an expected attendance of just four of us.  So on the day I decided to just throw down the green sheet, lay out a Paradiso terrain and just have at it with the new toys I'd been collecting over the past two years using the FUBAR one-page rules.

The result looked a little something like this..


The scenario was a relatively simple one - Driven by their recent failures, the Paradisan Revolutionary Farmers had taken control of a fuel supply depot.  The local Army commander had decided to make a show of force and sent in a full platoon in APCs to clear them out.  Unfortunately El Capitan was in for a surprise.  In addition to their ramshackle technicals, one with a 50 cal, one with a recoilless rifle, the guerillas had managed to acquire a battered old T55 along with a crew of "advisors" to drive it.

The second surprise, and a major escalation of the situation in Paradiso, was that the leaders of neighbouring commnist state Culo Raton had decided to support the rebel farmers and had sent an infantry platoon reinforced with two more T55s across the border to take advantage of the confusion and secure the fuel depot for themselves.  In turn, the Paradisan Army was able to call for reinforcements in the form of a couple of M60 tanks.

Due to the jungle terrain being largely impassable to vehicles, most of the action was focussed along the road on one side of the field.  The rebels kicked things off with an ambush on one of the Paradisan APCs that knocked out its 30mm cannon.  But sadly due to a failed activation roll they were unable to pull back and relocate before the infantry piled out and assaulted the ambush position, killing the whole squad.

Meanwhile the other two army APCs entered the small built-up area (well... there was a diner and a garage, at least) and the remaining infantry debussed and cleared the area, setting up a command post in the diner.  The army plan was for a "hammer and anvil", with one squad engaging the rebels from one side while the other two squads swept in from the flank.  It was a great plan, except the "anvil" was delayed by the ambush just described, while the "hammer" just managed to get the buildings secured when they found themselves outflanked by the arriving Culo Raton APCs.

Things got a little confusing from there.  The guerillas' T55 trundled into action but had its weapons knocked out by cannon fire from an APC.  They then made good use of the weaponless hulk by parking it across the road, blocking the advance of the army's M60s. The arriving Culo Raton forces took out one of the Paradisan APCs with a shot to the rear, debussed their own infantry, then spent several turns brassing up the diner with their cannons, turning it into a smoking ruin and driving the occupants out.  The "hammer" suddenly found themselves under serious threat from the rear and started pulling back towards the facility (ironcally retreating *towards* their original objective.).

By the end of the game, the original rebel farmers had pretty much been wiped out apart from one technical that fled after scoring a mobility kill on one of the M60s.  The Culo Raton forces had gotten one squad to the edge of the fuel depot, along with one T55 that had managed to find a path through the jungle.  The Paradisan Army had managed to get a squad and a half of infantry to the edge of the depot, but its armoured support was cut off and unable to reach them and the rest of the platoon was falling back in disarray.

So let's see, Here we have the guerilla's T55 (a chinese die cast - £6.99 from Ebay) blocking the road for a Paradisan APC (an Old Crow sci-fi model, pretending to be an M113 like real-world APC) and two M60s (Academy 1/48 kits).  Side by side with the T55, the Academy kits are all way overscale, being closer to 1/41, but on the table they don't look too bad.  Since Paradiso is an imaginary nation, I have no qualms about using toys or fictional sci-fi wheeled and tracked vehicles to represent "real world" vehicles, as long as they look the part.
The Culo Raton APCs are the old Marbeth Designs "Hann'Mag" SF APCS that I bought about 20 years ago and have *finally* gotten on the wargames table :-).  They're lacking in details, but they were cheap at the time and do for a sort of BMP/BTR hybrid.  The turrets were an interesting find - on Amazon.co.uk I saw a "Combat Mission" set of 8 vehicle kits and 30 toy soldiers for the princely sum of £2.80.  When I bought one just to see what it was like, the soldiers turned out to be the worst examples of "green army men" I'd ever seen, and the vehicle kits turned out to be tiny cartoonish "pull back and go" toys, the sort of thing you might get with a Happy Meal.  But the turrets!  The turrets for the "M1 tank" kit were perfect for the Hann-Mags, and even buying six whole sets and just using the one turret from each, it still worked out cheaper than getting a similar turret sculpted and 3d printed by Shapeways.  Plus the rest of those kits make great Bits Box fodder (I've already got plans to use some of the other turrets on other APC models I have)

   

This was the debut for the Culo Raton army, which I originally bought a couple of years ago.  Looking for a fairly generic set of figures with Warsaw Pact equipment, I went for the Iraqi army from the Assault Group.  As I explained to the other players, I'd grown up on a steady diet of WWII movies, so naturally in my mind, bad guys wear grey uniforms.  So it was a natural choice when I came to paint my "OPFOR" for Paradiso.

All in all I was very happy with the look of the game.  As I've said before on an individual basis nothing is particularly well painted or modelled, but put together as a whole the effect is quite attractive and "realistic".  I think I've even won over Mi Hermano Philestino Jonesy, who has been known to argue at length against wargaming aesthetics in favour of pure practicality.  I like to think we're walking a sensible middle ground and still managing to end up with an attractive looking tabletop.

Ruleswise, FUBAR worked incredibly well.  Apart from the farmers who were largely wiped out, there were very few casualties in the game, but overall things felt right.  It was noted that concentration of fire was required to overload a units capacity for suppressions in order to cause significant casualties.  Simply trading fire between two squads/fireteams would likely just result in suppressions on both sides and a stalemate.  As an aside, we also found it best to break the 9 man Paradisan squads (modelled after US Army) into 2 fireteams for activations, while keeping the 6 man Culo Raton squads (modelled after Warsaw Pact) as single units.  I think that reflects the differences between Western and ex-Soviet infantry doctrines quite well.  You could argue that splitting the 9 man squad into two seperate units allows them to absorb twice as many suppressions as if they were a single unit, but I think things balance out overall.

The vehicle rules, always a bit of an afterthought for a primarily infantry based game like FUBAR,  were OK but felt a little lacking.  I'm looking at some of the many FUBAR variants for inspiration, and we're either going to wind up adopting one of them, or otherwise simply lifting out the vehicle combat rules from another wargame to give us the right flavour.

This was basically the sort of wargame I've been wanting to play for a long time - modernish equipment, lots of toys on the tabletop and a fun battle game with a nod to realism but not excessively constrained by it.  The Flying Lead/Pulp Alley/7TV "warband" type skirmish games are all good fun, but sometimes a chap has a need to command more men than he has fingers (and toes), sending armoured columns swooshing up the table, and occasionally stretching to reach a far corner of the tabletop.

As for the final result of the battle.... weeeeeeeeeel everyone on the day agreed that the point where we were forced to finish the game would almost make a good start for another wargame, with both sides having troops arriving adjacent to the objective.  But although the sides are still relatively equal, looking at the table in the cold light of day the Culo Raton forces are much better positioned for an attack on the depot from two sides, while the Paradisans don't have a solid defensive position and will be struggling to bring their supporting tanks to bear on the enemy.  So reluctantly, as I was the commander of the Paradisan "Anvil", I'd have to call this battle a victory for Culo Raton (if not the rebel farmers).

Putting this into the perspective of the ongoing mini campaign that I've documented on this blog previously, the Culo Raton intervention has threatened the Army's control of Secure supply of food and materiel.  A role of 5 on D6 means that campaign resource is sent back to the "uncontrolled" pool, leaving the campaign status as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko. The Bridge at El Humber. The Goodwill Of The People.

Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. The Airfield at Los Anillcamino. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant

Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.  Secure supply of food and materiel.

Since this breaks the Army's winning streak, they've lost the ability to declare a raid on a specific campaign target.  So the next battle is totally up for grabs.  I have an idea to try something very different for a change. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Come fly with me, let's fly let's fly away.

While I'm in this blogging state of mind/frenzy, I wanted to share a heretical decision I've made with you.

I'm using 1/72 aircraft with 28mm figures.

I know they're hopelessly underscale, and a better option would be 1/48 scale (which would be more consistent with my land vehicles which range from 1:55 to 1:43).  But I've reached this decision after a lot of thought and for the following reasons.

1) When "flying" over the battlefield, the discrepancy in scale is less noticeable.

In fact it works well, because mounted on a flying stand 12-18" above the tabletop it gives a sense of false perspective.  That plane's not small, it's just really far away!  Real-world movie makers have been doing this for years, passing off footage of 1/4 scale models as the real thing without anyone batting an eyelid.

2) On the ground, is it a playing piece or a piece of terrain?

Most wargamers understand that the ground scale used by most rules is usually a lot smaller than the figure scale.  So a vehicle model that's in scale with the figures, might be the size of a large house when compared to the ground scale.  As a result, a lot of wargame terrain pieces are smaller than the true figure scale would suggest.  Aircraft on the ground are more likely to be acting as terrain pieces than actually being in play the way figures and vehicles are, so it's not inappropriate for them to be scaled closer to the ground scale than the figure scale.

3) Aircraft are still pretty big

Even something tiny like the Kaydet I used in last year's Hillbilly game is the size of a small 1/43 van.  If you're going to have anything larger on the table, it's going to start taking up an awful lot of ground space.  A 1/72 Dakota, a must for any brushfire wargame, is going to have a 40cm wingspan.  It's still pretty manageable at 60cm for 1/48, but anything larger than that is going to start becoming too big to be practical.

But the key thing is that pretty much any 1/72 aircraft on the table at first glance is going to look BIG compared to 28mm figures.  It's only when you start looking closely at details like doorways and windows that you realise that the aircraft is underscale for the miniature.

4) 1/72 aircraft are cheaper and on the whole more widely available.

Because it's always been one of the most popular aircraft modelling scales, the range of 1/72 kits is much wider than their 1/48 cousins.  And while you can find some quite expensive 1/72 kits if you're looking at rare or unusual aircraft subjects, on the whole they tend to be cheaper.  You can get a 1/72 BAe Hawk for as little as £7, whereas in 1/48 you're looking at £18-20

Add it all up, and it makes a compelling argument for using under-scale 1/72 aircraft in 28mm games.

In case you hadn't figured out, I'm not only looking at this from the perspective of using models for on-table air support in large wargames, but also in the context of a future airport/airfield terrain layout.  This latter was prompted by the discovery of this toy on Amazon.co.uk

It's a "bump and go" floor toy, which is supposed to trundle along the ground, flashing lights and changing direction when it hits a wall or obstacle.  As an actual Airbus 380 model it's pretty awful, and its scale is... questionable to say the least.  But with a little work, filling and repainting, plus replacing the hideous yellow drive wheels at the back with something a little more realistic looking, I think we could wind up with something that'll pass as a "generic airliner".  The alternative would be a 1/72 "garage kit" of a Boeing 737, which will set you back about £80 on Ebay, and give you a model of a similar size.  Whereas this "bump and go" toy can be had for about a fiver.

Scale model purists may despair, but if you're looking for a practical wargaming terrain piece it's pretty hard to argue with.  You don't want a perfectly accurate but fragile scale model that's going to break every time you take it to the gaming club, you want something that was designed to stand up to the uses and abuses of your typical 5 year old!  I have two. (the toy planes, not 5 year olds)

The other toy plane I'm looking at is to recreate that classic hangar scene that crops up in pretty much every action and adventure TV show.  You know the one where the rich bad guy is about to leave the country in his private jet, and they're boarding it in THAT EXACT SAME HANGAR IN EVERY SHOW when the good guys turn up to stop them?  This is one case where 1/72 lets us down a little.  For starters... try finding models of that sort of business jet in any scale.  1/72 supports historical and military aviation subjects pretty well, but there's precious little in the way of modern civilian aircraft in that scale.  Secondly, if you'r reproducing this scene in a skirmish wargame, this is one instance where the figures will be closely interacting with the aircraft and the scale discrepancy will really stand out.  It's one instance where I think a larger scale aircraft is more appropriate.

Pixar and Disney come to our rescue with their "Cars" movie tie-in toy range.  I've heard several people recommending the Cars die-cast toys as being suitable for conversion to 28mm gaming.  I've never seen the films, but the toy range includes a couple of aircraft, including "Siddeley the Spy Jet" which basically looks like it's modelled on a Gulfstream bizjet.

Judging by this video I found on YouTube, Siddeley looks like he'd be a decent match for 28mm figures.  Sold new on Amazon it looks like he'll set you back £40 and up, but a trawl of Ebay reveals some slightly lower prices, plus several playworn veterans for much cheaper prices.  I've just found one for about a tenner that's just missing its tail ramp - easily replaced with a little plasticard.

Finally, though I can't justify the purchase myself, I've just noticed that the other big plane toy in the Cars range, "Cabbie McHale the Transporter" is on Amazon.co.uk for just £20.  He's a pretty good representation of a C119 "Flying Boxcar", and I've seen someone on Lead Adventure do a pretty good job of repainting him for use with 28mm figures.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Run for the sun, little one...

Yes two updates in one month.... try to remain calm.  I'm really trying to get back into the swing of blogging :-)

I've been having a lot of fun doing research for Paradiso.

(I keep adding and removing the San- prefix at random as the fancy takes me.  I think I might officially add it if only to differentiate between this and the official (planet) Paradiso campaign for the Infinity wargame)

How might you do research for a place that doesn't exist?

Well it's absolutely the best kind of research, as anything goes.  I can look at people and places and things that are a bit like my imaginary setting and if I like them, I can include them.  If I don't, I'm free to change them to suit my needs.

For example, as a tropical island holiday destination that shares an island with a failed state, it's not much of a secret that I'm taking a lot of inspiration for Paradiso from the Dominican Republic.  So time spent studying the real-life Dominican Republic armed forces yields a lot of useful material for Paradiso.  The DR has the second largest armed forces in the Carribbean (presumably after Cuba), with six infantry brigades, one Airmobile and two support brigades.  That's interesting and useful, but I want to use some tanks in my Paradiso games, so two of those Infantry brigades become Mechanised with Armoured support.

Looking at Wikipedia and various other sources, I can see the equipment used by the DR - a real mish-mash with a lot of it donated by the Americans.  That works too, since I'm using Vietnam-era US infantry for my Paradiso army, along with whatever toys I can scrounge up cheaply enough.  So while the DR might not have Panhard VBLs, it's the sort of vehicle they might have a few of, and so they're good for Paradiso.

Looking at one briefing page showing pictures of parading DR soldiers, I'm struck by several of the non-army paramilitary units that seem to be tied to various government ministries.  The Ministry of Public Works and Communication, the Specialised Port Security Corp, the Specialist Airport Security Corp, The Tourist Safety Corp, the National Environmental Protection Corp.... At this point I know very little about each of these units, however the fact that they exist is itself great inspiration.  We now have a Paradiso where various branches of the Government raise their own troops for whatever reason, which has the potential for much hilarity in a coup-d'etat scenario.  Imagine an army plot being foiled by the Cuerpo Especial de Postale y Telefonica Securidad?  It's like something out of the Very British Civil War, but with palm trees.

A quick note about language and the way I'm mangling it.  One of the inspirations for Paradiso, believe it or not, was the "Channel 9" sketches from the comedy series The Fast Show.  I loved the nonsensical "foreign language" they used for that, mixed up with the occasional English loan-word that leapt out at you, which did a great job of parodying how English-only speakers hear foreign media.  To approximate that, while the official government language of Paradiso is English (a hold-over from their colonial past and the recent US occupation), 99% of the population's daily speech is in Spanglaise, a creole mix of English, French, Spanish and any other language I feel like throwing into the mix, all of it improperly conjugated :-)

Back to the DR armed forces, and those parade pictures reveal an elite unit of Cazadores in green berets, and a Presidential Guard in very unusual orange berets.  Both are so splendid, they're transplanted straight into Paradiso wholesale right away.  How they'll be represented on the tabletop is another matter - I have some spare boonie-hatted chaps left over that can be pressganged into the Cazadores, but the Presidential Guard are going to require a special purchase somewhere down the line.  I already think I know how to do them - Empress Miniatures US Army troops, headswapped with some British Para beret heads that I've already got.

Then we look at the air force, and it makes us sad.  The DR has virtually nothing in the combat aircraft field apart from a few Super Tucano counter-insurgency aircraft.  That's no good!  We want to do some air-to-air gaming at some point.  OK let's look elsewhere.... and a bit more googling reveals information about the US's policy of equipping lesser allies with older but still capable aircraft.  The Paradiso Air Force therefore gains a modest number of F5E Tiger fighters, with a few aging A4 Skyhawk attack jets to supplement the Tucanos.  Further down the line, they're bound to be trying to get hold of some BAe Hawk jets to modernise their inventory, but that's another story.  As it stands, that gives us a Paradiso Air Force that can provide an entertaining game if pitched against the Mig-21s and Shenyang F6s from their unruly neighbours in Culo Raton.

Yes the joys of obsolete kit in an Imagi-Nation setting.  Cutting edge modern gaming does occasionally have a tendency to be very one-sided, depending on who's performance stats you believe.  But older, less technologically advanced equipment tends to smooth out that imbalance.

If this seems implausible to you, here's a mind bullet for you:  The real-life, real world Dominican Republic army is still operating a number of M3 half-tracks.  Yes, World War II vintage US Army equipment is still in active service there.

And so the process of building up a picture of the military of Paradiso (and of Culo Raton) continues, an unholy mixture of what I can learn from the real world (which may drive future modelling or purchasing decisions) and what toys I already have or can lay my hands on cheaply (Like the Panhards)

It's all part of the fun of building an Imagi-Nation, and while it's something that you can't do when building strictly historical forces, ironically enough  these days you can't do it with most Science Fiction or Fantasy games either.  The modern trend is for games with their own, tightly defined background and "official" miniatures ranges.  They don't leave much room for imagination or original creations any more,  Which I find a crying shame.

Moving on, here's a glimpse of my WIP map of Paradiso


You'll notice a distinct lack of detail at this stage, and that's entirely deliberate.  Once something is pinned down an written on the map, it becomes fixed and limits future options.  I want the flexibility to throw whatever things I need to into this setting in order to produce fun games, rather than being limited by what I've already fixed in place.  For example, if I want to do a battle set in a petrochemical port facility, right now I'm free to locate that facility anywhere I want on the map, then that in turn will suggest further details that we can add (like road and rail links).  If instead I'd fully mapped out the country before doing any games, I'd have to hunt around the map for a suitable battle location, and if I hadn't already added a petrochemical port or left plausible room for one I'd be SOL.

The games add to the map, rather than the map inhibiting the games.  As we do more games, so the detail on the map will grow.

As it stands I've added the locations referred to in the Farmers' insurgency proto-campaign that I've talked about previously in this blog.  I've decided to add the results of our recent game on the Industrial scenery to the campaign, in which the Guerillas were prevented from taking control of or damaging the Sunrise Corp facility.  The Army will use that defeat as an opportunity to move in and take control of it themselves - as it's a currently uncontrolled asset they succeed automatically.

The campaign status is as follows...

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko, The Bridge at El Humber, The Goodwill Of The People.

Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. Secure supply of food and supplies, The Airfield at Los Anillcamino, The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant

Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.


This has led me to consider some changes to the campaign rules discussed previously.  As it stands the rules are great for reflecting an overall result for a number of otherwise random unconnected games, but they don't allow players to exercise much strategic thought.  I think we need some option to allow one side or the other to "take the initiative" and have some say in dictating the course of the campaign.

So how about this....


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Campaign Rule - Raids

If one side wins two consecutive campaign battles they may "take the initiative" and declare one of their opponent's campaign resources as a specific target for the next battle.  All participants must then agree on a scenario and game setup to accurately reflect the attackers offensive against that campaign resource, for example through appropriate terrain setup or victory conditions.  Once everyone is happy with the setup, the battle is fought as normal.

If the defending player (not taking the initiative) wins, they may attempt to gain control of other campaign resources as per the normal rules.

If the attacking player (who did take the initiative) wins, they may either automatically render the target resource uncontrolled, or atttempt to take control of it for themselves requiring a roll of 3+ on D6 (basically one step easier than normal)  They may then keep the initiative and declare another raid target for the next battle, and so on.

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If we introduce this option to our campaign rules, I think the next battle will see the Army launching an offensive to secure the vital Bridge at El Humber.  Hmmmm I sense a modelling challenge coming on.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin'

Ok so it's a quarterly blog update.  Sue me. :-)

For months now, probably since the start of the year, Mi Hermano Collaboratore Jonesy and I have been working on a terrain concept.  Progress has been slow, almost ground to a halt at times, since we only routinely worked on it every Sunday afternoon, and even that suffered many cancellations due to ill health, other gaming events and sundry distractions.

Last year, before the money ran out, I treated myself to multiple sets of the Industrial Terrain set from Wargames Tournaments.  Well basically I bought one, liked it but decided I needed a bit more, then won an auction for a triple-sized set.

One Industrial Terrain set
Veteran gamers might find something familiar about this product, and yes indeed it was designed to emulate and be compatible with the old cardboard scenery from GW's Necromunda.

Now we decided that though the platforms themselves were quite nice, to make this look like any sort of plausible real-world industrial complex, we needed a lot more solid Stuff(tm).  Pipes, tanks, buildings - Stuff in and around the platforms to make it look like things are being stored, transported and or processed around the site.

Six months later...


I couldn't find a camera angle that took it all in.  Apologies for the crappy photography, but I'm rather out of practice!

Let's see, we have assorted drinks cans and pringles tubes, domestic 40mm PVC piping, gasometers made from biscuit tins, shipping containers from Mad Mecha Guy and Demo's Lasercut Designs and tons more.  Oh and a converted £10 kids toy construction crane.  It easily fills most of my 8'x6' table, leaving a 1' margin on two sides (used here for a road and a railway)


None of it is world-class modelling material, and it doesn't really bear too close an inspection.  But as the old Soviet saying goes, "quantity has a quality all its own."


The scene's really brought to life by some of the 1/43 die-cast vehicles I've been collecting over the years.  Most are out and out toys, like this Teamsterz "Load & Go" delivery truck.  The blacktop main road is a commercial product made by someone on eBay, the lighter grey sections are a WIP, made with sandpaper stuck to cheap vinyl tiles.



I recently discovered a vendor called www.carmodel.com, an outfit based in Italy who sell all scales of collectible die-cast cars.  What drew me to them was they had a category labelled "Cheap 1/43 cars", which includes a whole load of Russian/East European vehicles for as little as 3.99 Euros.  These are absolutely fantastic for giving a non-US or Western Europe vibe, and are exactly the sort of vehicle you might expect to see crop up in a third world country.  One thing we do still need is more actual buildings, but for now we have the Plasticville(?) gatehouse and that's about it.


In Paradiso, the biggest industrial complexes are often operated by the Sunrise Corporation, with their signature yellow-boilersuited workforce.  These armed technicians from Ainsty were painted to represent the classic 60s spy-fi minions.... any similarity to any other yellow minions is entirely coincidental.


One feature I'm quite pleased with is the "bits box factory machinery" bases.  They are, exactly as the name suggests, random bits from the bits box hotglued together to a suitable base.  Having been thrown hastily together and sprayed black last December for the "ruined factory" table, I finally got around to painting them.  I went with a very crude rough base colour drybrush for everything, with a lighter more selective silver drybrush on top.  Again literally 5 minutes work, but the overall result is quite effective at giving the impression of dirty, used machinery.


In addition to just throwing out some pipes and spraypainted tin cans onto the table, we've tried to do a couple of more complex pieces, like this wossname, doohickey type thing.  Don't ask me what exactly it's meant to represent. But it's a Nesquick plastic tub smooshed together with the WT platforms and the machinery from a toy police tow-truck bunged on top.  


To all this we added a ton of scatter.  My friend Dave had gifted us with a load of oil drums which helped massively with the industrial feel.  Streetlamps, dumpsters, gas and liquid tanks from Ainsty and Ramshackle and planters from Antenocitis.  Basically anything that could break up line of sight or provide cover.

There's tons more I could show or talk about - I've not even touched on the gasometers or the crane or the converted container lorries or... you get the drift.  Six months of work, remember?  And still we're a long way from "finished" with this terrain.  As I mentioned, we want more actual buildings for figures to be able to move into and around, the pipework needs painting and expanding somewhat (we have some narrower gauge pipe to complement the 40mm stuff), and I really want a chain link fence to surround the whole facility(or at least on two sides).

But it's 75% there and 75% is good enough to play on, especially since it's been "in development" for so long.  So far we've played two games on this setup - The first a Flying Lead battle pitching the Paradiso farmers Guerilla army against the Sunrise Corp security.  Despite early successes breaching the gate and the perimeter, the guerillas were quickly contained and pinned down by the defenders, fighting from superior positions in the walkways (and out the back of one container truck!).

The other game we've played was a test run of the new 7TV 2nd edition Beta rules.  To the uninitiated, 7TV from Crooked Dice is designed to let players recreate action and adventure shows from the 60s and 70s.  The supporting ranges of figures would be only two familiar to anyone who'd watched British TV in the last 50 years, Jonesy and I had been planning to try out the 1st edition for a while, but never gotten around to it.  Since we're not collecting their figures, and the Spy-fi figures I have aren't painted yet, instead we went for an "80s private detective show" theme, with a little warband I've put together called the Redd Foxx Detective Agency (more on them in a future blog post) infiltrating.. yes you've guessed it, a Sunrise Corp. industrial complex.

The 7TV 2nd Ed rules are greatly streamlined from 1st ed, and in my opinion do a better job of emulating a TV show's format.  There's a nifty card-based countdown mechanic to limit the length of the game, with the cards doubling up as Chance cards for random happenings (all couched in TV terms like "Casting Call" or "Continuity Error").  There's an activation mechanic, which means you can't necessarily do everything with your entire force every turn, and each side has access to a pool of one-shot "Gadgets" to help them.

Our first impression is very favourable.  We played a small band of a Star & 4 Co-stars (the Detectives) against three times as many Extras with one Co-star leader.  The game felt very balanced - stars and co-stars are more competent and get more activations, but putting any of them out of action gives the opposition both bonus activations and victory points.  Meanwhile Extras need to be clumped together under leaders in order to be activated as groups, but you have to kill a lot more of them to get their side to the morale break-point (or "Axed", in 7TV parlance) and then they don't count towards victory points.

The game felt very even throughout until the very end, but on counting up the victory points was a massive win for the Sunrise Corps at 8-1, mainly due to taking out my Co-stars.  The rules writing seemed pretty tight, as you'd expect from a 2nd edition, with very few headscratching moments if any.  As a Beta set, the rules included none of the background fluff from the "official" 7TV series casts (i.e. factions) and no campaign rules.

The one negative I have is that you're supposed to select your cast from a selection of pre-generated archetypes, stats for which are provided on attractive character cards.  But I found those archetypes very limiting in their options.  There are some quite elegant and simple rules for customising Stars and Co-stars in a limited way, but you may not find yourself able to create any imaginable character within the rules.

All in all, I'm filing 7TV as a useful set of rules suitable for light-hearted pulpy action, along with Pulp Alley.  The Beta set is so tight and fluff-free that I can see us carrying on playing from these beta booklets even after the full game is released.  Like Pulp Alley though, it's not so suitable for general military combat, or gritty urban crime.  Flying Lead from Ganesha Games remains my favourite go-to ruleset for generic modern firearm combat, with the state of 2HW's Chain Reaction currently hanging in the balance after it proved unpopular with Jonesy and a couple of others in my gaming circles.

I am however currently looking closely at FiveCore from Nordic Weasel Games, after enjoying he Brigade Commander version so much.  I rather like the idea of being able to fight a five-man skirmish, a company level action and a brigade level action using essentially the same game mechanics.  The main stumbling block is whether some of the game's key assumptions will sit well with some players.

I'm still looking for a good  modern "Toy Soldiers" game i.e. one where having a fun game takes precedence over strict realism.  I generally describe this concept as "40K Modern", where I can field several tanks and APCs along with 28mm infantry support and have a fun game on an 8'x5' table (despite "realistically" those distances being ridiculously tight and close for those forces.)  FUBAR is one possible option for this, but I'm also hoping to try out Mongoose's defunct Battlefield Evolution rules (available as PDF at Wargame Vault)

On the Company level, I also find myself intrigued by Warfare In The Age Of Madness, which looks like it's pitched at the same sort of game as 5Core Company Commander (about 12 elements, single vehicles and squad elements, smallish playing area) and also straddles the divide between real-world modern and sci-fi/post apocalyptic eras.  But although the rules have been out for a while, I've yet to find anyone on the web reporting having actually played a game of it, and although they're very reasonably priced at Wargames Vault, I've currently hit my spending limit for the month so they'll have to wait.

On the other hand, I'm waiting for the boys at WinterOf79 to get their act together and release their In Development game "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Sterlings." so I can throw my money at them.  After all, how can you not love a game that categorises its troop quality levels "Hard", "Blokes", "Lads" and "Tossers"?

Thursday, 30 April 2015

All the small things..

Someone mentioned to me the other day, rather pointedly, that it was about time for my bi-annual blog post.

Funny guy, I thought.  Then I checked the date of the last post and... well... fair cop.

So Point No. 1: Not dead yet.

The planned continuation of San Paradiso wargaming got derailed a little when during a tryout game of the latest "final" edition of Two Hour Wargaming's Chain Reaction, it emerged that some of my regular wargaming collaborators just plumb don't like Chain Reaction.  It was one of those awkward rules discussions where it became clear that the participants were operating on completely different assumptions.  I've always seen Chain Reaction and the other 2HW rules as more gritty and "realistic" in terms of limiting what figures can do and how little you can control them.  I think that comes from my experience with some of the very earliest 2HW sets like Wasteland Warriors, or the original Six Gun Sound, before Ed started introducing more "roleplaying" elements making the leading characters "Larger Than Life".

By contrast, one of the other players I think was expecting a much more "pulpy" fun game, possibly having been swayed by our recent successful introduction to Pulp Alley.  For him, Chain Reaction was a failure, because he couldn't do crazy, heroic charges without being cut down mercilessly.  Human nature being what it is, once we set our minds that something is "bad", it's very difficult for us to adjust our criteria and perceptions in order to see it as "good" instead.

The rules discussion that followed was... well let's say "robust", and leave it at that.  I've since found out that at least one other of our gaming circle doesn't like the 2HW rules, which means Chain Reaction looks like it's going to be retired as a possible ruleset for future games.

One thing I want from my hobby of wargaming is to be able to play different styles and tones of games, depending on the circumstances, how I'm feeling, who the other players are etc.  I don't believe there's a "One True Way" that all gaming has to conform to.  For example, I love Flying Lead from Ganesha Games, as a kind of default, fairly light firearms skirmish ruleset for up to a dozen figures a side.  But sometimes, I might be in the mood for something more pulpy or action-movie-ish, in which case Pulp Alley might fit the bill.  On the other hand, if I wanted a more "serious" skirmish game, which rewards more tactically minded play, previously I would have gone to Chain Reaction, which in my experience when you remove the "Larger Than Life" elements does just that.

So with CR out of the picture, I'm looking for a skirmish game that fills that gap.  There are a couple of possible candidates out there - the 5Core rules from "5 Men In Normandy" looks like a possible candidate, provided it can handle games a bit larger than the original 5 figures per side.  Another interesting possiblity is Infinity, the science-fiction skirmish rules from Corvus Belli.  Although written for a far-future setting, at the end of the day an assault rifle is an assault rifle, and the rules are at heart a firearms skirmish game.  They also share 2HW's assumption of "overwatch by default", in which the active moving player is just as likely to provoke a deadly response from the opposition by acting as it is to kill the enemy.  Although it's sold as a very expensive hardback book (£60!!!!!!), Corvus Belli have published the PDF version absolutely free on their website, along with all the army lists, weapon lists and campaign scenarios that are designed for tournament play.  I've watched many Infinity games played out on YouTube (mainly from MiniWargaming) and am playing around with a modern conversion which along with the game's "quick introduction to the rules" should be enough to get a friendly game going sometime.

I'm also looking for a ruleset for slightly larger games, maybe up to a couple of platoons a side, leaning more towards the "fun toy soldiers" end of the spectrum.  I've been adding bits and pieces to the collection over the past few months, and itch to see my full wargame table laid out with a San Paradiso game that looks more like something from the good old Tarr and Featherstone era.  Something that plays a little like a modern version of Warhammer 40K, but with perhaps a few more concessions to reality.  Rulesets I'm looking at include the defunct Battlefield Evolution from Mongoose Publishing, and FUBAR.  We've played FUBAR in the past and found it basically enjoyable, but I'm looking at some of the many variants that people have come up with to tweak the basic rules.

Should we ever want to game even larger operations, we already have a winner.  One game that I have played a little bit recently was 5Core Brigade Commander.  This uses stands representing companies, with individual vehicles representing platoon-level attachments.  This means that you can put a Soviet style motor-rifle regiment on the table using less than a couple of dozen vehicle miniatures (assuming two per stand).  The game plays really well, giving a good feel of commanding at the higher level, unlike other micro-armour games I've played.  A group of us have used Nordic Weasel's brushfire war supplement to generate a bunch of ex-Soviet-bloc Imagi-Nations and are planning a bit of a casual mini-campaign in the near future.

But the main ongoing project has been the industrial terrain, based on the MDF platform sets from Wargames Tournaments.  This has been dragging on a bit as in recent months the regular weekly crafting session has had a lot of disruption.  However following the usual mantras of "just one thing at a time" and "a little as often as possible", the terrain is starting to take shape.  We have various lengths and gauges of PVC pipeworks, including one type that was originally designed to make a set of kids football goalposts (Thanks Dave for donating that find to the project!)  We have a couple of minor conversion jobs adding tin cans and pringles tubes to the MDF platforms, we have one fairly spectacular converted toy and lots of appropriate scatter terrain.  After a lot of sessions given over to planning and brainstorming and generally unproductive preparations, the test layout currently sitting on the wargame table is starting to look like something that might one-day be playable on.

I can just about make out the light at the end of the tunnel.

The current plan is to initially use the industrial terrain to try out the 7TV rules from Crooked Dice, a set that Mi Hermano Collaboratore Jonesy as been keen to try for a long time.  On the painting table we have a bunch of armed technicians from Ainsty (I'm too stingy to afford the Crooked Dice minis) and various agents, spies and villains drawn mainly from the Copplestone and Artisan "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" ranges

...

Of course me being a typical wargamer, I'm already planning, inspired by and indeed buying toys for the next big terrain project AFTER the industrial one is done.  *DOH*

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

This must be just like livin' in Paradise.

GOTCHA!
REBEL LEADER CAPTURED IN FIERCE GUN BATTLE WITH GOVERNMENT TROOPS
RUINED FACTORY SCENE OF CONTINUAL FIGHTING

The ongoing unrest in the Western Foothills spilled over into the industrial district of Puerto Brum.  Earlier in the week, the ruined and abandoned Milk Duds factory was the scene of clashes between the Policia Municipale and assorted gang members and foreign mercenaries in a chaotic four-way gun battle.  Unfortunately the brave men of the Policia were driven off and the site left in the hands of the criminals and anarchists.

Yesterday however, the Army sent in a squad of troops to clear and secure the site.  They quickly encountered a sizeable force of the rebel farmers led by the notorious revolutionary El Porco Verde.  In a long gun battle, two soldiers were killed and several wounded, however our brave boys in green finally managed to capture the rebel leader and several of his henchmen.

A spokesman for El Presidente has stated "We believe that the rebels were at the site to pick up a supply shipment of arms, smuggled to them by one of the city's criminal gangs.  In smashing this operation, we've dealt a crippling blow to this illegal revolt against our just rule."

Thus is the tale of two wargames recently fought in my Imagi-Nation of San Paradiso.

The first was a quickly thrown together game of Pulp Alley for the Old Farts gaming evening, who graced me with their presence last week.  Since I don't have any proper pulp-era figures painted, it was a toss-up between digging out the Victoriana/Steampunk figures, or going for a modern "Action Movie" style game.  In the end we had the Police, the biker gang, the "urban" gang and "The Z-Team" all clashing over a table representing a ruined factory complex.


As a fun game, I can't praise Pulp Alley highly enough.  It's designed to reproduce the feel of dashing pulp serials, with lots of back and forth and a fairly low body count.  The rules could work without modification for pretty much any period from early gunpowder to sci-fi.  However you'll always have that highly cinematic feel, which might not suit the tone of game you're aiming for.  Personally I'm happy to add Pulp Alley to my "toolbox" of rulesets, as the go-to rules for "fun" multiplayer skirmish games, alongside Flying Lead and Chain Reaction (in increasing order of seriousness).

Anyway the multiplayer Pulp Alley game proved inconclusive, with the Police the only clear losers (the other three sides each had secured one "Plot point", and while the Bikers looked about to gain the upper hand, we basically ran out of time).  So I left the terrain set up on the table and today decided to send in an Army squad to clear the area, using Two Hour Wargames' Chain Reaction in a solo game.  It was the first time I'd used the current PEF rules (Possible Enemy Forces), and I was looking forward to seeing how they'd work for an impromptu solo game.

It was an exciting battle.  The squad entered at the front gate and after ensuring the gatehouse was empty, split into two fireteams.  Alpha team, accompanied by the squad leader, peeled to the right, towards one PEF, while Bravo team peeled to the right, toward two PEFs.

Bravo encountered the enemy first, revealing a rebel foot patrol.  It was here I ran into the first and only real headscratcher of the game.  In Chain Reaction, PEFs are resolved as either nothing, or a number of troops relative to the player's "Group".  While the rules seem to be written with the assumption of a single player group, it wasn't clear what happens in the case of a squad split into two tactical groups operating independantly, like the two fireteams.  Do you base the number of troop in the PEF on the number of troops in the fireteam encountering them, or on the number in the whole squad?  At first I assumed the latter, but seeing the overwhelming odds that produced, switched to the former (basing the numbers on the encountering groups).  I think this aspect of the game bears tinkering with, maybe using the subgroup size, but increasing the number of PEFs on table based on the number of subgroups in play.

Anyway Bravo team ran headlong into that patrol (which eventually had four members) and paid for it with the loss of the fireteam leader.  The survivors deployed into the ruined buildings for cover, revealing the second PEF which fortunately turned out to be a false alarm.  The SAW gunner managed to take out the rebel patrol's leader and a second rebel, sending the two survivors diving for cover.

Meanwhile Alpha team had similarly spread out and encountered the third PEF, which turned out to be the main rebel force of 8 men, including their leader El Porco Verde (from the jungle ambush game).  An exchange of fire between the REP 5 squad leader and the REP 5 rebel left the soldier sprawling in the dust, having rapidly burned through his "Star Power" points in an attempt to cancel his injuries.  The two sides settled down for what looked like it would be an extended firefight of attrition.

Bravo team lost a second man but managed to take out the rest of the patrol facing them.  They then quickly moved towards the sound of gunfire, hoping to catch the main rebel force in the flank.


It was at this point that I made a mistake, or perhaps got a little greedy with the Rebel actions.  The initiative dice came up Gov 6, Reb 2, which meant that though the Government troops nominally won, they could only activate units with a REP 6 or higher (of which they had none), while the rebels could activate anything with a REP 2 or higher.  I tried to send two men in a mad dash across the open towards a flanking position on Alpha team.  Although they were spotted as soon as they reached the open, I was banking on winning the resulting In Sight Test, using El Porco's REP of 5 vs the leaderless soldiers' 4.

In a statistically unlikely but not impossible result, the Soldiers rolled more successes and were able to shoot first, gaining a few easy kills.  The following turn saw Bravo team arrive at a flanking position and pour fire into the rebels.  El Porco was gunned down, surviving through Star Power, while the rest of his group were whittled away until only he remained, at which point I called an end to the scenario.


It really had felt like the rebels had the upper hand, up until the arrival of Bravo on the flank.  Had the rebels taken an extra turn to properly suppress Alpha team (with Duckbacks) before attempting the dash across open ground, things might have gone differently.. then again Bravo team might have arrived before they'd been able to capitalise on that.  But all in all it was just a really fun little solo game.

From a campaign perspective: linking the rebels to the hardcore criminal gangs served to undermine their popularity amongst the more conservative elements.  Thus the following Sunday, more than one church pulpit saw a sermon condemning the farm rebels as "traitors against society, San Paradiso and the Will of God". (i.e. Attempt to undermine "Support from the Church", requires 3+, rolled 3)

This leaves the campaign status as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko, The Bridge at El Humber, The Goodwill Of The People.

Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. Secure supply of food and supplies, The Airfield at Los Anillcamino

Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant, Support from the Church.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

In the Jungle, the Quiet Jungle...

Memo to Self: When wanting to post pictures to the blog, remember that the camera card reader will only be found immediately after you've written it off as lost and ordered its replacement from Amazon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Lesser Spotted Paradisan Turkey-Vulture has landed.

Or put another way, we have finally fought the inaugural wargame in the San Paradiso imagi-nation setting.  Talking to mi hermano disponible Jonesy during our regular Sunday terrain crafting & mini painting session, it transpired that his regular Monday D&D session would be cancelled.  So I suggested he and any other loose players might come over here for a coffee-table skirmish game to actually use some of the stuff we'd been working on these last few months.

I came up with a scenario that just happened to be the opening shots of the Paradiso farmer's revolt campaign I outlined in the last blog post, and so we settled down to a very enjoyable evening trying to get to grips with the latest iteration of Two Hour Wargames' "Chain Reaction".

I've been a fan of 2HW for years.  In fact back in the day I ran a very successful demo for Amazon Miniatures back when Chain Reaction was branded "Guns & Girls" to tie in with their range of figures inspired by the gun-fetish porn site of the same name.  (For the record, this was not the demo game that got Amazon and MAWS perma-banned from the Partizan wargames show for miniature nudity.  I meticulously greenstuffed little bikinis, crop tops and hot pants onto every figure, much to the bemusement of the AM staff, and ran a scenario with them fighting off against the faceless corporation of "the Man".  My figures may still have been slutty, but by the gods they were Empowered Sluts!)

Anyway Chain Reaction and the 2HW mechanics have gone through several iterations since I last played them so I was looking forward to seeing if they still kept the same back & forth firefight feel as the earlier editions (Spoiler alert: They do).

The terrain was my living room coffee table, which is just a shade smaller than 4ft by 3ft.  Since the urban terrain is still nearing completion on the workbench I decided to use the trees & jungle vegetation scenery that I've been working on in parallel.

The Scenario:

The Free Farmers' Collective have so far been limiting their actions to civil disobedience and peaceful protest.  They have however procured a supply of automatic weapons and other material necessary to escalate their campaign to a full armed revolt.  Word has reached the ear of El Jefe De Policidad in Verdaville that the rebels are picking up a supply drop located at a remote roadside stop up in the heavily forested foothills of Monto Blanko.  El Jefe immediately rushes out with three of his most loyal constables to go and interrupt those naughty rascals.  Despite his utter confidence in his own abilities and the ultimate authority of Law & Order which he represents, El Jefe is persuaded to pause at the local army barracks and bring along some regular army troops in support.

Government Forces
El Jefe - REP 5 Star, Shotgun
Three Constabulos Municipales - REP 3, one with shotgun, two with pistols

Four soldiers - REP 4, Squad leader and rifleman with M16s, grenadier with M203 and gunner with SAW.

Rebel Forces
Rebel Leader El Porco Verde - REP 5 Star, Assault Rifle
Seven rebels - REP 3, One with a SAW, the rest with Assault Rifles.

The terrain was mainly thick vegetation, with a road running roughly diagonally across the table.  At the centre is the roadside stop (maybe a rural bus stop or possibly a roadside food stall?) where the Rebel's truck is being loaded up.  The rebels could setup two figures up to 18 inches away from the truck as sentries, the rest would have to be within 4" in the middle of loading up.

The Government forces had a choice on how they entered - they could drive in hard and fast and pile out of their vehicles guns blazing, or park up some way up the road out of sight and proceed in on foot with a little more stealth.  (in the end, I wound up playing El Jefe, so I wound up dicing for it, resulting in the police skidding to a halt at close range, Sweeney style).


The police car had barely skidded to a halt when one of the alert rebel sentries opened fire on it from the bushes, putting one of the constables out of the fight right away.  A couple more rebels brassed up the car, leaving it rather the worse for wear and suppressing the occupants (i.e. duckback results), while the rest of the rebels scrambled for their weapons and cover.

El Jefe and the Constabulos crawled out of the riddled patrol car on the side away from the rebels and tried returning fire.  El Jefe's shotgun succeeded in taking out one rebel, but the poor constables found themselves totally outgunned by the rebels' AKs.  Meanwhile the fireteam of soldiers moved into the woods and started trying to move up the road to a flanking position.  They came under fire from across the road, and in diving to cover almost stumbled over another rebel hiding in the vegetation, who they gunned down in a vicious close-range fight.

While the army traded shots across the road, El Porco Verde led half his men in an almost mirroring manoeuvre, successfully flanking the police behind the car.  The two constables scurried round the back of the car seeking cover, while El Jefe successfully fended off El Porco Verde while he dived for the nearby bushes.

In the end however, El Porco Verde used his men's fire to pin down El Jefe (duckback) before charging in himself to finish off the Government Pig.  It was a vicious, drag-em-down-in-the-mud fight, but eventually the filfy rebel scum beat the valiant police hero to death with his rifle butt.


(It was actually at this point where we struggled with the rules.  Technically it's debateable whether El Porco would have been able to make a charge, since El Jefe had suffered a Knocked Down result and was presumably out of sight.  However common sense suggested that he ought to be able to, so I handwaved it.  Then we carried out the Charge Into Melee test.  The results were that the defender (El Jefe) could fire and the charger (El Porco) could melee, no reaction tests.  But the rules weren't clear on what that meant or the exact order of events.  We resolved El Jefe's fire and got a Knocked Down result.  Did the "No Reaction Tests" mean that El Porco shouldn't take the usual Recovery Test?  If I'd not scored a hit, would it have meant he didn't take the usual Under Fire test (I'd assume yes to the latter, not sure about the former).  And most importantly, did the fire take place before the melee, and did the Knocked Down result prevent El Porco from getting his planned melee attack?

My assumption was that the fire happened as the charger was moving up, and a result from that should stop the melee from happening.  However my esteemed opponent didn't share that assumption and so we went on to resolve the melee with the egregious results for law and order.

I should point out however that had the charger been a normal figure, El Jefe's shotgun blast would have cut him in half, since El Porco had used the Star Power rules to reduce the damage down from a double-kill to a mere knockdown.  The Star Power rules actually worked very well I felt, much better than I'd expected them to. Both El Jefe and El Porco took otherwise lethal hits prior to the melee and
were able to barter them down with Star Power points.  It struck the right balance of keeping heroic characters alive without them becoming unstoppable killing machines.

So anyway the honours went to the Rebels, and putting my campaign-managers hat back on, I'm going to say that they used their success to take control of the uncontrolled "Goodwill of the People" resource.  The ordinary people of the foothills of Monto Blanko and the Piso valley are buoyed by news of the rebels success, and are beginning to believe they have a chance of success.  In mechanics terms, with 4 resources to the Government's 3, it means any hope the government had of quickly suppressing the revolt is now gone.

The next game can now be anything that follows on logically from the first.  It could be another skirmish like this, or it could be a larger scale battle, maybe fought in 15mm using AK47 rules.  Or if you have a game with suitable air-to-ground rules, you could play out a fairly one-sided game of an airstrike on a rebel stronghold (The government would at most have light attack aircraft like the Super Tucano, the AH-6 Little Bird helicopter or an obsolete MiG, the rebels won't have any aircraft, but could conceivably have some man-portable SAMs just to keep things interesting..  hmm I'm tempted to dig out Mercenary Air Squadron and see if that couldn't handle that scenario as a neat little solitaire game.)

In narrative terms, the fall of the vainglorious El Jefe means that the local Commandante will now take full control of the situation and be prepared to commit regular army forces to the suppression of the farmers revolt which now has to be taken seriously...
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The jungle terrain is largely made up of that old familiar standby - aquarium plants, mounted on CDs or irregularly cut MDF bases (bought from Wargames Tournaments).  The smaller, light green trees are actually from a Toys R Us dinosaur bucket.  I've had them for ages, but basing them properly really gave them a new lease of life.  The taller trees are from eBay, from one of the many Chinese importers selling plastic doodads on there (Possibly Everest Models, though I can't be sure).  So far I've used about a quarter of the plants & trees I'd collected over the years, but judging by the way what I've got covered a 3'x4' table, I think just doubling what I've got ought to be enough for most purposes.


 And lastly, a fun piece.  With all those Plasticville buldings I acquired three of the Plasticville cars.  They're very primitive, just a plastic bodyshell and clip-on wheels (like the very cheapest plastic toys) and a shade smaller than the 1/43 scale I use for cars with 28mm.  Since they would not be usable as cars, I copied something I'd seen a couple of times on the internet and turned one into an abandoned, overgrown and rusted wreck.