Monday, 29 August 2011

Everybody knows that the bird is the word

After spending the weekend trying to make sense of Force on Force I've spent a couple of hours this morning looking through the Ambush Alley forums reading rules questions. Based on that, and a reading of the example of play, I've come to the conclusion that the "Overwatch always goes first" that vexed me isn't what the authors intended and is an artefact of unforgivably sloppy rules writing.

The general game mechanic in Force On Force is that you roll a dice of a given type and any result of four or more is considered a Success. Some rolls however are 0pposed, in which case both sides roll a dice of their relevant type, and the higher roll wins. The problem is that the rules still talk about the 4+ result in relation to opposed rolls, whereas from what I've read in the forum, the intention was for this to be irrelevant for opposed rolls.

What then further complicates matters is that the rules writers then went on to use "pass the Reaction Test" as a synonym for "win the Reaction test" Overwatch units that "pass the Reaction Test" get to act before any other units. Since they also get a +1 on the Reaction Test roll, that means they'll be passing (4+) on anything other than a 1 or 2.

Replace that with what the rules writers seem to have intended and you have a much less severe Overwatch. Overwatching units now roll opposed Reactions as normal, with their +1 bonus, but have to beat the unit they're interrupting to fire first. If they don''t, then not only do they fire last, but they also lose overwatch status (by "failing" the Reaction test). Similarly, non-initiative units that "fail" a Reaction test aren't able to make further Reactions in the turn.

I can't find this explicitly stated in the forums or rules FAQ, but it tallies with the example of play and the assumptions stated by posters in the forums. Ambush Alley Games have nerfed my forum account so I'm waiting for a new one to be activated before asking some questions to definitively clarify these points, but I'm 99% confident that this reading of the rules is what the writers intended, even if it's definitely NOT what they put down in black and white.

Which to me is absolutely unforgivable, sloppy and incompetent rules writing. If you mean "win the Reaction test" say "win" not "passed". If you don't really care if either side rolls 4+ in an opposed roll, just who get's the highest total, then don't mention "rolls 4+ and beats their opponent" in the definition of winning. Define your terms, use them, and don't expect your reader to understand what you "meant to say" when you start throwing synonyms around.

If I'm right, then I'm liking this game a little more than the one we were playing over the weekend. But by God, it shouldn't have taken this much work to get there.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Everything today is thoroughly modern.

As a break from all the VSF of the last couple of months, this weekend was dedicated to ultra-modern wargaming with the popular Force on Force rules. Jonesy, mi hermano del instigador, dragged me along with him to visit an old, old wargaming friend of his who I'll name only as the other-other-Chris. The two go way, way back and OOChris is lucky enough to have a dedicated wargaming room with a 8'x6' wargames table, although we weren't going to be using more than a fraction of it.

I'd originally picked up Force On Force with a view to using it with 15mm figures for more military-style games in the Axis Of Naughtiness imaginations (Chain Reaction being my preferred game for smaller scale skirmishes). Jonesy got the idea of "trying out" the game with a few packs of soft plastic 1/72 figures, although this weekend he admitted that between multiple figure packs and plastic vehicle kits, his investment in 1/72 is almost as much as mine in 15mm!

So Saturday came around and off we went to OOChris's house. On the way we called in at Transport Models of Preston. It's every bit as impressive inside as their webstore, with stocks from pretty much every plastic figure manufacturer in the business, including some I've never heard of. Jonesy picked up a couple more Dragon HMMV kits, while I stumbled into their die-cast collectibles section and found some absolute bargains. They had a number of Lledo Days Gone die-cast vehicles for silly-money prices (£1 /£1.50 each) including a couple of horse drawn and steam vehicles. I scored a brewers dray and a removal van, both horse drawn for $1.50 each, and an "emergency services" set for £4 with vintage police car and ambulance but.. and this is the prize.. a horse drawn fire engine. The horses on all the Lledo vehicles tend to be comparable in size to the smaller "old-fashioned" cavalry figures, like those I use from Irregular. The driver figures on the dray and fire engine are roughly 25mm, while the removal van driver looks closer to 20mm. But with a new driver for the removal van and a little bit of paintwork all three should be fine for populating the Victorian-era streets with some civilian traffic.

Anyway flush with our respective purchases, we proceded on to OOChris's house. Arriving towards the early evening, we started sociably with a cuppa and a catch-up, before settling into the serious business of learning Force on Force. Sadly I managed to forget my camera, so there are no pictures of any of the games, which is probably just as well, because we quickly moved on to proxying vehicles with OOChris's World War II collection, which gave us the bizarre image of USMC infantry supported by a Tiger Tank.

Over the course of a day and a half we managed to get in four full games, albeit one very short one. We started with a straightforward kinetic infantry engagement, then moved on to an asymetric battle, then a pure tank action to learn the vehicle rules and finally OOChris and Jonesy faced off in a combined arms "Cold War Hot" battle with half-tracks pretending to be BMPs and insurgents pretending to be Soviet Motor Rifle troops.

I have to say it, but Force on Force is not the best-written ruleset on the market. Oh the rules themselves are OK. I personally love the way the unit activation/reaction system interlaces the move sequence so that both sides need to be actively engaged in the game at all times... it's never "not your go". But the rules themselves are so badly organised, and we found multiple instances of contradictory rules, sometimes within the same block of text. We found some sections that just did not make sense... in an English language sense, that is, and a couple that were major "Huh?" moments. Take morale checks. You basically roll a morale dice for each trooper left in the unit, looking for 4s or better. If you get more successes than failures, then you pass, otherwise you fail and are pinned (for regulars) or shaken (for irregulars). If you do the statistical math as we did (or rather Jonesy and OOChris did, while I looked on making tutting noises) you see that the probability of success plotted against the number of men left in a unit gives a bumpy graph line with no real rhyme or reason, which suddenly becomes twice as difficult to succeed when a unit only has two men, then becomes a lot easier when there's only one man left.

The activation/reaction/overwatch interruption sequence also caused us some headaches. If I fire at a unit that hasn't been activated yet, it gets the option of reacting and returning fire, and we dice to see whose fire takes effect first. If I fire at a unit that's on Overwatch, it gets a bonus to return fire and automatically fires first, but at one stage it was posited that Overwatch fire is a completely separate phase and the Overwatching unit would get an additional round of return fire after the original firing unit had gone.

One other point I'm still a little dubious on - Overwatch is described in the rules as allowing a unit of the initiative-holding player to interrupt the reaction of a non-iniative unit to an activation by another initiative holding unit...... getting dizzy just trying to describe it... let's start with an example.

Red player has the initiative. He puts one of his units on Overwatch and Activates another one moving it forward. Blue player is watching and sees the moving unit come into view of one of his units and declares a Reaction, firing on the moving unit. The Red Overwatch unit can then Interrupt the Reaction, and provided it passes a troop quality test, will be able to act before the Blue unit fires. If the Blue unit survives, then the Reaction between it and the moving Red unit is resolved normally.

Fine as far as it goes, although it took us long enough to reach that understanding. But once Red has activated all the units he has on his side, play passes to the non-initiative player who can move and fire any of his units that haven't already reacted to any of Red's activations. The rules explicitly state that Red troops on Overwatch may React to Blue's Activations, but my question is, do they still get the "Overwatch always goes first" bonus, or is it resolved as a normal action. Overwatch is explicitly described in the rules as being a function of interrupting Reactions, but if the non-initiative player isn't reacting....

I suspect if we put that question to one of the authors they'd say something like "Well obviously what we meant was..."... which is all very well, but that's not what you ruddy well wrote down, sunshine. Which when you consider that the Osprey edition of Force on Force is the third incarnation of the rules (original Ambush Alley, Ambush Z and 1st ed Force on Force) is pretty much unforgivably sloppy work.

I have a feeling that I'd quite like the ruleset that the authors obviously meant to write. Through trial and error over the last two days I think we've gotten closer to reaching that game and I can think of several cases where I could rephrase the rules to say what we think the authors meant but much clearer and with half the text. As it stands, the domination of Overwatch stops the game being one of fire and manoeuvre and makes it largely a question of "get to defensive positions then micromanage the sequencing of fire exchanges to optimise your outgoing fire versus return fire". It also means that the best tactic for the Initiative player seemed to be to put everything on Overwatch and just respond to actions by the non-Initiative player. Which as OOChris pointed out, is rather the opposite of what "having the initiative" ought to be.

Despite the qualms over the rules, we had a great weekend of gaming and I think we'll be persevering with Force on Force. Jonesy, I think it's fair to say, will also be persevering with the 1/72 scale, which put me in a bit of a quandary. 1/72 is a great scale for figures (cheap soft plastics) and scenery (OO scale model railway scenary) and some vehicles (selected Hot Wheels/Matchbox die-cast cars) As soon as you start looking at military vehicles however, the price starts to skyrocket. You won't get a BMP kit in 1/72 for much less than £10, whereas in 15mm from QRF or Old Glory you'll be looking at around £6 each.

The problem is, I'm finding myself drifting away from 15mm on all fronts. I've already abandoned 15mm for VSF gaming with GASLIGHT. When I kicked off my return to gaming with a large order of 15mm from Rebel Miniatures at the start of the year, a sizeable chunk of that order were zombies, with a view to doing All Things Zombie in 15mm. Since then I've somehow picked up more 28mm zombies than I have 15mm, and have a much better selection of vehicles in that scale. 15mm modern also meshes nicely with my 15mm sci-fi figures... except that Jonesy has already pre-ordered Tomorrow's War with a view to using it with his old GZG 25mm Stargrunt army, and I've got a box full of 25mm lead and resin that could be used for that.

So I'm weighing up - Is there a case to be made for uncluttering the wargaming collection by getting completely out of 15mm, despite the scale's obvious advantages and my existing investment in it?

Friday, 26 August 2011

It's not easy, being green

Today was another morning of family duty, which I parlayed into an opportunity to clean up and prime the Fenians and the Russians.

I'm not honestly sure where the idea for a Fenian army came from. I'd just started playing colonial wargames following the inspiration of the Major General, and had setup my fictional arab state of Olistan as a playground for the Great Powers to clash in. While looking at various ranges of figures, it was obvious that American Civil War figures were most widely available, and I had a vision of ACW-equipped infantry in green instead of the usual blue or grey, making a rather splendid hypothetical 19th century Irish army. However apart from the fictional setting, I wanted my Olistan colonial gaming to be strictly historical in scope, with real-life Western powers and natives with clear real-world analogues (I had smooshed the Sudan and the North West Frontier together quite successfully - I never quite went as far as having Boers and Zulus on the same map, but I did have Egyptian-like native troops battling Pathan-like hill tribesmen with Russian advisors. It was quasi-historical at least.

It wasn't until years later that I saw the picture of the Battle of Ridgeway and found out that, yes indeed there was a nineteenth century Fenian army and yes indeed, they did look an awful lot like ACW troops.

In actual fact, the real-life Fenian raids were more like a few hundred lads out for a spot o' riotin' over the border than a serious military force. But there are enough seeds in the story that we can weave an alternate history where the raids, and the uprising in Ireland were significantly more successful than in real life and that the Fenians have maintained enough military clout, possibly with US sponsorship, to become a real threat to the British. I'm visualising a modest but significant Fenian Free State in Ireland, possibly the reverse of the real-world Eire/NI split, with three quarters of the island still in British hands.

This whole setup has not been without a little soul-searching, however

Although as wargamers we can usually gloss over the sheer horribleness of the events we're representing in the games we play, every so often they hit a little too close to home. I know US Vietnam veterans who can't bring themselves to wargame the conflict. I know someone currently serving in HM Armed Forces who feels a little awkward about playing counter-insurgency games with Force on Force, having been doing it for real in the not too recent past.

In my case, it's hard to overlook what evolved out of the Fenians' original struggle. Although I've lived all my life in England, I'm about 3/4 Irish by blood and grew up in a house filled with statues of St Patrick and Daniel O'Donnel CDs. My childhood was dominated by the "Troubles" at their worst. IRA bombs were a real and constant threat for us, and indeed 1996 saw Manchester hit by a massive bomb attack. (Just as my Dad had seen his home town of Enniskillen devastated in 1987) No-one in my family was "active" in the struggle, and my Dad has always been apolitical although I did learn years later that my Grandfather (who I never met) was a pamphleteering Fenian, though from what I know of him I can't imagine him doing more than giving someone a nasty paper cut.

I've gone from the child frightened of the IRA bogeyman to the adult who's learned the history of the Troubles and with understandable national pride, favours a free and violence-free Ireland. But even though peace has mostly broken out, the old hatreds still remain, their origins now meaningless beyond... "We hate them over the other side of the barricade. We always have, we always will." As always happens, power-hungry men exploit the conflict for their own ends. It's going to take generations to unlearn the prejudices of the past.

So it's not without some trepidation that I set out to create a Fenian VSF Army for GASLIGHT. Though I can happily refer to them as Taigs and talk about the Fenian Brotherhood, in the back of my mind I'm aware that some might be offended and feel I'm trivialising an important cause, while others might consider it provocation to bloody murder. Lest anyone think I'm glamourising the organisation that terrorised my childhood, I'm dropping any references to the Irish Republican Army (the Battle of Ridgeway being the first time that name was used) and even the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and referring to the force purely as Fenians. I am however pushing the boundaries of good taste a little bit by including a number of bomb-throwing anarchists in the force - the Fenians did carry out an early "dynamiting" campaign against targets in mainland Britain in the 1880s, but I have to confess it does sit a little uneasy with me even now.

But at the end of the day, we're talking about frickin' toy soldiers here. It's an excuse to have another faction with slightly different uniforms and equipment to throw into the GASLIGHT mix.

Plus I get to have a cool standard bearer.

I do hope that no-one takes offence at me having a few little toy soldiers painted in a green Imagi-Nation uniform. I hope no-one takes offence at me playing up the "drunken, fightin' Irishmen" angle. I hope no-one takes offence if, when time comes to paint the figures' hair, there are more redheads than are statistically appropriate.

To anyone who does take offence at these things I say - They're frickin' toy soldiers, man. Get a grip.

While I was priming these and the Russians, the postman arrived with a long awaited order from Old Glory. It held the two packs of Victorian London civilians from Blue Moon manufacturing, part of their "Things that go bump in the night" range. They are absolutely beautiful figures, possibly the best sculpted Victorian civilians I've seen, full of animation and personality. They seem to fit well sizewise with my other Foundry and West Wind civilians, but they're cast with integral bases slightly larger than a UK penny that are sculpted to resemble cobbled streets. While they look fantastic, I'm a little concerned that the decorated bases will clash a little with the sand & flock I'm using for the rest of the figure collection. It seems a shame to cover the sculpted base up, but I may wind up doing so in the name of consistency.

I've also received my first shipment of tridlins from Ramshackle games, enough to start work on the converted Brass Coffin. The Scrap Tank turret does fit very nicely onto the GW Leman Russ tank, giving it a more steampunky profile, but I'm afraid the HST boiler has turned out to be way too big to use on anything short of a Leviathan (or possibly a large Aeronef)

Finally Scotia Grendel have sent me the last two of their Dwarven Steam tanks - one which looks like it fires some sort of harpoon gun, the other with a concealed multiple rocket launcher system. They're both going to require a little bit of work, but both should find their place in the Evil Genius army before too long.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ain't got time to fix the shingles, ain't got time to fix the floor

For some reason I'm really struggling to get motivated to do anything over the last day or so. As a result I've been dabbling, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but not really making significant progress with anything.

Last night I started cutting out the doors and windows for the second slum building, this one being double the width of the first to make it a proper terrace. But I found cutting all those shapes out of foamcore seriously unfun, so on a whim I started a third building, this one using cork tiles as the primary material. The cork cuts a hell of a lot easier than foamcore, and the basic shell of the building was thrown together in super-quick time. This morning I've covered the front and back walls with brick paper and so far there doesn't seem to be a massive difference in appearance between the foamcore building and the cork one. The long walls are possibly bowing a little more, but that should sort itself out when the frame is glued to the base and the roof fitted.

Project priorities right now are (1) the slums and (2) the Fenians. Need to try to keep focussed.

(PS: My problems focussing are probably not helped by the fact that I've got this song from Flanders and Swann stuck going round and round in my head)

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Drinks will flow and blood will spill...

Jonesy, DeadEdd and the Thin Red Line

This weekend I was under the mistaken impression that Jonesy (mi hermano organizado) and I would be heading up the road to visit with an old wargaming friend of his for a weekend of Force on Force modern gaming. What I didn't realise was that old friend had put us back a week, leaving this weekend free and clear. After a week of Family Duty and having made a big effort to get this weekend off, it seemed a shame to waste it, so with the realisation that it coincided with a Manchester Area Wargames Society meeting (first, third and fifth Sundays) we decided to play an impromptu GASLIGHT game there. It was too late to organise any sort of a multiplayer game, but we were able to get in touch with our old friend DeadEdd, who was available to join us.

As I might have mentioned previously, since I was last involved with the club, focus there has shifted almost entirely over to competition-style wargaming. Similarly, since the club now opens every Monday night as well, the Sunday sessions have fallen out of favour - where there used to regularly be a dozen games today there were only three, including us. So we had no problems grabbing two tables for the game and a couple of spares for drinks, record sheets, casualties etc. (On Monday nights apparently it's frowned upon if you use more than one table per game.)

Everything was pretty much put together on the fly for the game - for forces I assembled basic British & German forces so that everything could be carried in one KR Backpack (two multicases) and an Aquila (which held the cavalry and a selection of character figures).

British forces
3 units of Regular Infantry
1 unit of Guardsmen
1 unit of Lancers
4 Landships (aka the Atlantis "Spanner" tank)
2 Gun Trucks

German forces
2 units of Regular Infantry
2 units of Jaegers (purely cosmetic, statwise they were identical to the regulars)
1 unit of Uhlans
3 Landships (the "not A7V" tank from Ironclad)
3 Ludwig class walkers

I had the vague idea of putting the built-up area in the centre of the table, but from there pretty much left the terrain layout to the other two. Because there were three of us and only two sides I offered to run one side myself while Jonesy and DeadEdd split the other side. In the course of play they also shared the card-wrangling duties which made my life easier. We played mainly from the original GASLIGHT booklet, but bearing in mind the cases where I've learned the rules in the Compendium have changed. We did however house rule a couple of things, as always.

1. A vehicle may take an action on a turn where it makes a successful Start roll.
2. A vehicle with fixed forward-firing weapons may make a Sustain roll in order to rotate up to its Spin before firing. In practice this usually only results in a slight "lining up" with the target
3. A vehicle may, in place of moving or firing, rotate up to 180 degrees in any direction. (AKA The "three point turn" rule)
4. The Ludwigs were only able to fire one of their two weapon systems - machine guns or main cannon, per turn. The MGs being fixed forward required a Sustain roll to bring on target as per 2 above. The dual Main Cannon may both be fired in one activation if the Ludwig passes a Sustain roll, if not the turret ring must be manually cranked into alignment and only one gun may fire.
5 We agreed to use both the new rules for catastrophic hits (natural 20 on the Save roll) and the original rules (rolls modified by SRM that are 20 or higher) as we agreed that the original rules meant heavier guns were more likely to get catastrophic hits, and just generally the more BOOM the better.

We also generally forgot about vehicle Morale rolls, but that wasn't so much a deliberate house rule as us genuinely forgetting to make the checks.

Jonesy and DeadEdd took the British and decided to try for a cavalry sweep round their left flank, while keeping their landships to the centre and right with supporting infantry. I decided to put my Ludwig walkers on the right where I knew they could wade across the river (a decision we'd made last game), have the Landships and cavalry in the open space in the middle with some supporting infantry, and put the Jagers on the left flank to slog through the woods and croplands (we ruled the golden fields as easy going but with soft cover, while the brown represented ploughed fields that offered no cover but were difficult going.)
Disaster struck the British early when HMLS Penzance failed its first Sustain roll and would find itself unable to restart until nearly the end of the battle. By contrast the German advance was a disciplined, orderly affair, except possibly for the Uhlans who decided that an advance across open fields that were already under the British landship guns was a bad career move, and repositioned in the shelter of the woods.
Over on the far British left, the "Fast Brigade" of the Lancers and the two gun-trucks got themselves into a bit of a traffic jam heading for the gates onto the lane. It was here that they came under fire from the Imperial Landship Lohengrin that did minor damage to Gun Truck #1 "Stanley". The lancers made a break down the lane, only to come under fire from both the advancing Ludwig walkers and one unit of infantry who had formed line along the river bank.
Meanwhile in the centre, Imperial Landship Parsifal had fallen prey to enemy fire, and HMLS Mikado had made a daring dash to outflank the stalled Siegdfried. On the next activation the lancers came through the middle of town and out the centre to charge the unit of German infantry huddling between the two Landships (DE: "Can you charge around corners?"... Me:"Meh, why not." - it was that sort of game.) They made both the morale roll for their casualties, and their morale roll for charging, and when I picked up the die to roll the "receive charge" morale check, I uttered the fatal words "I've not taken any casualties and have my unit leader. Pretty much anything other than a 20 would be OK."

Guess what I rolled?
Now By-The-Book I'm not sure that even that 20 would fail - halved to 10, -1 for Unit Leader = 9 . BUT working according to the spirit of the rules and the "natural 20 is always bad" dictum, I don't have a problem with natural 20 being an auto-fail for morale checks. The results scattered the unit, with only the officer and a couple of soldiers standing firm (courtesy of "charge nearest enemy" and "fire at random enemy" results. They actually gave a pretty good accounting of themselves for the next couple of turns, despite repeatedly failing morale checks they still managed to take out a couple more horsemen before being forced to retire. Revenge was dished up by the other platoon of infantry who flanked round behind the Lancers and with a round of volley fire, wiped them out completely.
Over on the German left flank I was aware that I had a purely infantry & cavalry force facing a landship supported by infantry. I decided to go for the "Hail Mary" play and after a couple of rounds of cautious advance the Jagers in the cornfield let loose a volley at the Landship. It was just outside short range for breechloaders which left me needing fours or less to hit and any that did would need a natural 20 save roll to have any effect. Three shots hit, and when Jonesy rolled the saves....... a 20 came up! Rolling on the Catastrophic Damage table resulted in the landship being destroyed and a huge fireball extending 12" to the front just missing my chaps who were just outside range. That was the second time that damage result had come up - the first had claimed the Imperial Landship Parsifal (and the fireball, we decreed, had consumed a tree on the edge of the town). Who knew it would happen a third time...

Two of the Ludwig walkers engaged in an extended gunnery duel with the two Gun Trucks and a unit of infantry (who desperately tried to emulate the Jager's feat for several following turns.) Gun Truck #1 "Stanley" took a catastrophic hit that actually knocked it off the side of the hill and sent it toppling over, but #2 "Oliver" was able to hold its own. The third Ludwig actually pulled across to the centre to support the stalled Siegfried and the be-lancered infantry against the daring HMLS Mikado. It was here I made a mistake, mixing up Ludwig #1 and #3 so that I acted with #1 when #3's initiative card came up... but #1's card came up two cards later and when I pointed out my mistake, everyone agreed it hadn't affected the results of the action.

Anyway, #1's main gun spoke and scored a Catastrophic hit on HMLS Mikado. The result.... vehicle destroyed and 12" fireball to the front.... Ludwig #1 was in range of this and so took the hit, failed the Save and suffered a steering jam, forcing it to turn constantly to the left. Although I could have legitimately remained stationary and used Ludwig #1 as a static gun position, I decided that would be un-sporting, so my next activation I made a "compulsory" move which effectively took it off the table.

Back on the German left flank, the Jagers and Uhlans suffered from some hellishly effective rifle fire from the firmly dug-in British infantry. The cavalry first failed a morale test and were spooked, three troopers charging the British behind the wall and suffering an undignified fate. The Jagers picked off a few British troops but the weight of fire was against them, and eventually both failed morale tests resulting in the collapse of the German left.

All was not quite lost - two British Landships were destroyed and two were out of action through failed Sustains. I had two Landships and two Ludwigs, the latter of which are pretty good anti-infantry platforms, plus one remaining unit of infantry. I pushed into the town on my right with infantry and the Lohengrin and we all agreed it was still a little too close to call.
My infantry came down Main Street, and the Grenadier Guards who had been on the edge of town exchanging fire with the Jagers, turned to face. There was a brisk exchange of rifle fire down the length of Main Street. Meine tapferen jungen gave a decent account of themselves but the weight of fire was against them, and a few turns later the three survivors dived into the nearby pub to find solace from the firestorm. The celebrations of the Grenadiers were cut short however by a round from the recently restarted Siegfried, which wiped them out to a man.

The Lohengrin had pushed forward through the town and was engaged in a point-blank knife-fighting gunnery duel with HMLS Pinafore. A lucky shot from the britishcher sweinhund jammed the Lohengrin's throttle full forward, and it barrelled forward out of control until it was nearly off the table. Finally Gun Truck #2 "Oliver" took a hit that jammed its steering left. As with Ludwig#1 it could legitimately have remained in position with its gun already laid in on its target, but when DeadEdd heard that I'd voluntarily moved Ludwig #1, he promptly did the same with Oliver, which took it off table.

It was at this point that I offered a "GG" and yielded the day. One of my Landships was totally out of position and bracketed by two of the British 'ships. One of my Ludwigs had suffered a turret jam on its main gun and wasn't really combat effective against vehicles. I'd lost all my troops, while the Brits had three relatively intact units of infantry left. It was, everyone agreed, a very close run thing.

Although Jonesy and DeadEdd had split the British command, on the whole the game was setup as a conventional two-player head-to-head wargame rather than the large umpired multi-player participation games that I think the rules were written for. Even so, the game flowed well and any fuzzy areas of the rules that would normally call for Umpiring calls were agreed in a gentlemenly fashion in the spirit of the game. Apart from the one mix-up between Ludwig #1 and #3 (not helped by the fact that the decal identifying #1 has somehow been rubbed off the model) I didn't have any problem handling five units of troops and six vehicles. I don't think I'd have a problem with a few more units of troops, but a couple more vehicles of different designs and statistics might start to become a little more complicated.

Jonesy is now talking about possibly putting together a little GASLIGHT force of his own. He mentioned that he'd wanted to go for British, but since I had them pretty well covered he might be thinking of a French force. Of course, mon brave, but consider this. All my British troops are in Home Service kit, leaving an opening for somone to collect foreign service troops in sun helmets or even, God forbid, that frightful khaki nonsense.

Once you realise that, it's just one step further to "Well why not get both French and Colonial Brits"....

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Our house, in the middle of our street

This week has been another case of "Real Life stopped play" as I got called on for family duty Monday & Tuesday (and again tomorrow in fact). I did manage to finally get the MDF boards cut for the slum project bases - so I now have four roughly 60cm square base boards which need to be covered in cobblestone wallpaper, and a number of bases for the individual buildings and pavements, which will sit on top of the baseboards. I also found time to pave and paint one base to offer it up to the prototype building.

I've done the pavement with individual squares of thin card - a little time consuming but not too bad. I am however chickening out of paving the back yard areas, which strictly ought to be done in the same way. I'm in two minds whether to just give it a rough black painted texture, a printed pavement texture (like the brick paper) or just use another piece of cobblestone wallpaper.

I've also been stripping the paint off the two GW Leman Russ tanks that I picked up cheap at Britcon. The hideous arctic paintjob is proving difficult to remove, although it's now about 90% clean. The glued-in sponson guns have however defied all efforts to loosen them, so it looks like I'm going to have to try to hacksaw the weapons out without doing too much more damage to the sponson frame. I'm waiting for an order of tridlins from Ramshackle Games with the parts I'll need to steampunk these, as well as planned conversions of the Grendel Iron Drake and Ramshackle's own Brass Coffin.

Finally thanks to everyone for the positive feedback on the GASLIGHT tutorial posts. I hope they continue to prove useful to newcomers. As became clear, even I had a couple of things to learn about the revised rules from the Compendium. A more useful lesson I've learned from the exercise is that even though GASLIGHT isn't designed for small table games, even my modest 3x4 coffee table can host an enjoyable, half decent GASLIGHT game. I played the tutorial with the official "one unit, one vehicle, one unattached MC" recommended per player, but the action was really confined to about a third of the table. Although GASLIGHT vehicles can potentially move across a large portion of the table in a single turn, they are limited by their poor manouverability and the terrain. I think I could quite happily manage a game with double the forces involved in the tutorial, which is starting to turn into a decent sized wargame. That's definitely something I want to try, if I can ever make the time.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

My Tank! Has a Great Big Gun

WARNING - if you lovingly customised a Games Workshop Leman Russ model with tons of extra guns, detailing and crew, painted it in a wicked arctic camoflage scheme and if you just sold it yesterday on the Britcon '11 Bring & Buy stand, then you may not want to read the following post in which I describe hacking it to pieces and soaking it in paint stripper...oops too late.

Seriously it was a thing of great hideousness, the sort of thing that you know someone poured their heart and soul into creating...


Anyway I hacked all that gubbins right off, twisted the turret off and tried removing all the other guns. For those who haven't seen one, a Leman Russ is based on a WWI style "rhomboid" tank chassis, with two wing sponsons, a forward hull-mounted gun and a turret mounted heavy cannon. I'd picked up two of these at Britcon with slightly different weapons mixes. I want to remove as much of the 40K stylings as possible, which includes recognisable weapons like the sponson-mounted heavy bolters. Although it was quite easy to force off the sponsons and crack them open enough to remove the weapons, unfortunately whoever assembled the arctic monstrosity glued his sponson guns in, instead of leaving them to pivot freely, which is going to make removing them problematic.

I've got an idea of what I'm going to do with these - build up a boiler assembly at the rear, replace the wing sponson weapons with scratchbuilt gatling-type guns similar to the ones I did for the Gun Trucks, and replace the too-modern looking turrets with something big, riveted and clunky, either scratchbuilt or possibly just use the Scrap Tank turret from Ramshackle. I'm not sure which force these are going to see service with - the rhomboid design suggests British, but they're already well catered for with the four Atlantis "Spanner" tanks. They're too advanced for the Fenians and I still like the idea of the Russians using mainly wheeled vehicles. The Evil Genius forces will have all the Grendel Dwarven Steamtanks and these Leman Russ's will fit quite nicely with them, but I've still got a hankering to add them to the Imperial German forces to complement the slightly disappointing not-A7Vs from Ironclad. For now though they're just wallowing in baths of Dettol to try to get rid of the existing paintwork.

Apart from that, today was mainly spent painting 1/72 plastic modern insurgents with Jonesy, mi hermano moderno. We're going to be visiting an old wargaming friend of his next weekend and having a go at Force on Force. Having gotten used to working on 28mm figs over the last couple of months I found the slightly smaller scale figures a little hard to adapt to. Hopefully the Army Painter Quickshade will work its magic and they won't look too bad on the table.

This Is How We Roll pt 2

First off I just want to put in a small disclaimer. I'm no longer really part of the GASLIGHT team, and am writing this purely as a player and fan of the game. Nothing here should be considered official or authoritative as to how GASLIGHT has to be played. This is just how we roll. It's highly likely that I'm doing at least one or two things "wrong", and I know for a fact that there are a couple of instances where I disagree with Buck & Chris's choices and deliberately contradict their rules (Buck & Chris - if you spot me doing something wrong in the following write up, feel free to point it out in the comments, but I reserve the right to say "that's b*****ks!" and carry on doing it "wrong"!), but this should at least give you a good idea of how a game of GASLIGHT plays out.

So with that out of the way - onwards!

Part 2 – The Game

GASLIGHT works best with some sort of scenario, even if it's only a rationale as to why the two sides are meeting in an encounter battle. It's also best when both sides need to move to fulfil their victory conditions, otherwise a very dull and static attack/defence game can result.

Following the stalemated clash at Nether Fondle, morale among the British Army reached a new low. In order to raise the Tommies' spirits, Whitehall ordered a special mail delivery to the troops in the field. Major Norbert “Nobby” Stiles on detached duty from the Blues and Royals was assigned to lead the escort of a platoon from the East Surrey regiment and one of the experimental Royal Horseless Artillery Gun Trucks.

Word of this special delivery leaked to Imperial German spies, who surmised that the postal delivery must include some secret plans for a counter-offensive. Count Otto von Hurlitz was despatched with a platoon of men and a Ludwig combat walker in order to intercept and capture the “secret” messages. The horse drawn van carrying the messages must be captured intact for the messages to be secured.

There's the scenario, this is the terrain. The British must get the PO Van the length of the board to safety, the Germans must prevent it from doing so.

Although I played this entirely solitaire, I'll describe it as if it was a regular game, with two players and an umpire (although an umpire isn't necessary providing both players are like minded and agree to play in the spirit of fun and adventure)

In a GASLIGHT turn (Section 6.1.1. p.43) the umpire turns initiative cards over one at a time, and the unit, vehicle or character named on the card gets to activate. An activated unit may move OR fire but not both. When all the cards in the deck have been turned over, the deck is shuffled and the process repeated for the next turn. So without further ado the umpire turns over the first card of the initiative deck.

The First Turn

Card #1 is the German Infantry. They decide to simply advance 6” towards the road from their start position. (Section 6.4.1 Movement of Personnel p.49) The Umpire turns the next card...

Card #2 is Count von Hurlitz. He too advances to join the infantry. Again the Umpire turns the card...

Card #3 is the Ludwig Quad Walker. (And at this point both players are heartily mocking the Umpire's card shuffling skills, with all three German units having acted first.) Because this is a steam vehicle, the German player needs to roll a D20 and get less than the vehicle's Sustain rating in order to be able to move (Section 6.4.3 Movement of Ground Vehicles p.50) . The player does this easily, rolling a 2, and advances the walker to the corner of the cornfield.

The Umpire sulkily turns over Card #4 which is Major Stiles. He simply advances to the edge of the town and glowers menacingly at the advancing Germans.

Card #5 is the Post Office Van. Although this is strictly a vehicle, the Umpire has decided that since it's horse drawn it doesn't need to roll Sustain , but instead may move 6” up the road every activation (pulled by a very tired and plodding pony). In effect, the PO Van is more like a timer for the scenario than a vehicle in play. The British player advances it to the edge of the town.

Card #6 is the RHA Gun Truck. This does need to roll Sustain (Section 6.4.3 Movement of Ground Vehicles p.50), and does so easily with a 10. The player ponders how best to use it. Vehicles in GASLIGHT can either move or fire, and can only turn at the start of their move. The truck could shoot right down the length of the road with its massive 17” move and try to loop around Square Wood to engage the oncoming Germans in the flank. But that would leave the PO Van unprotected for at least 2-3 turns. Instead the British player decides to advance only to the entrance of the corn field, with the idea of turning to face the enemy on the next turn to bring its gun to bear by turn 3. Remember that armoured vehicles in GASLIGHT are big, primitive and clunky and nowhere near as flexible as their modern day counterparts, and they can prove unreliable and ineffective as we shall see.

Finally Card #7 is the British Infantry. Captain Hurst leads his men up behind the PO Van to protect it, and that's the end of Turn 1

The Second Turn

The umpire shuffles the cards, amidst further taunts from the players. The British player asks if the umpire needs a grown-up to help him cut the cards. The umpire simply narrows his eyes and silently vows the British player will pay for his insolence. He turns over the first card...

Card #1 is the British Infantry. They simply move 6” further up the road behind the Gun Truck

Card #2 is Major Stiles. He initially moves up to the end of the hedge facing onto the cornfield...

until the German player politely reminds him that he rolled “Swift” for Stiles' skill (Section 4.1.4 Skills for Main Characters p.12) , giving him a 10” movement rate. The British player sheepishly moves Stiles the further four inches, and the good Major does his best to hide behind a tree.

Card #3 is Count von Hurlitz, who moves a further 6” up to the wall around Square Wood.

Card #4 is the Ludwig Quad Walker. It sucessfully rolls less than its Sustain and could move, but instead fires its main cannons at the Gun Truck which has suddenly appeared through the gap in the hedge ahead (Section 6.6.1 Firing at Vehicles p.65). Because we're on such a small table, the range is already Short for the Ludwig's main guns, so he only needs to roll less than the Ludwig's Shoot score of 9. Unfortunately he rolls a 11 and a 14, so both shots miss.

Card #5 is the RHA Gun Truck. The British player rolls for Sustain (Section 6.4.3 Movement of Ground Vehicles p.50) but gets an 18 which is one higher than its Sustain score. The Umpire has previously ruled that the Gun Truck's main weapon is fixed and cannot be aimed if the Gun Truck hasn't Sustained (think of it as actually turning the whole truck in order to bring the weapon to bear.) The rear-firing Gatling has a 90-degree arc of fire, but in the vehicle's current position, this can't be brought to bear on the Germans.

Card #6 is the German infantry, and Hauptmann Weber leads his men in an unruly mob just into the open corner of the cornfield

And finally Card #7 comes up and the PO Van moves a further 6” up the road. The British are in some danger of developing a bit of a traffic jam at this point, which the German player might be able to exploit to his advantage.

So with Turn 2 complete, we've still had no real casualties but the Gun Truck is temporarily out of action due to technical difficulties. The cards are shuffled and we're on to...

The Third Turn

Card #1 is the PO Van. Now we run into the traffic jam. By the strictest definition of the rules, the Van ought not to be able to move through friendly troops, but where's the fun in that? The umpire, with an evil glint in his eye, offers the British player a choice. The PO Van may move through where Major Stiles is blocking, but it will be treated as a reverse of the “vehicles overrunning troops” rule (i.e. instead of having to roll vs Shoot to run the troops over, the Van will need to roll vs Shoot to not hit Stiles – see Section 6.9.2 Vehicles Overrunning Infantry p.78). The British player, knowing that Stiles has a decent Save rating, decides to take a chance, and moves the PO Van forward its full move. The driver fails the Shoot roll to avoid Stiles, but then the British player rolls Stiles' Save and gets a 20! By The Book, Stiles has met a crunchy end under the wheels of Her Majesty's Post Office wagon, however the umpire decides that's a little harsh given the small size of the game and to forstall any whining from the player, decrees that Stiles has been forced to dive out of the way into a muddy ditch by the side of the road and will simply miss the next activation.

Card #2 is Count von Hurlitz. He climbs over the wall around Square Wood (costing 2” of movement – see Section 6.4.1 Movement of Personnel p.49) and moves into the wood (which as rough terrain halves movement, so his 4” of remaining movement only takes him 2” in) The cunning Count clearly has a plan to ambush the PO Van from hiding in the woods.

Card #3 is the Gun Truck. Because it failed its Sustain roll last turn , this turn it needs to roll less than its Start value (Section 6.4.3 Movement of Ground Vehicles p.50). It needs to roll 12 or less, but gets a 17 and is going nowhere. The British player says a few choice words about the quality of British coal.

Card #4 is Captain Hurst. Seeing the German Infantry about to come across the cornfield, he deploys his men in a firing line along the hedgerow facing the lane. Although he and a couple of his men are in the open at the gateway, fire against the unit will count as if in cover, because more than half the men are behind the hedge.

"I say, Major Stiles? Whatever the devil are you doing down there?"

Card #5 is the Ludwig walker. The German player rolls for sustain and gets a 20. After muttering that he shouldn't have looted that "verdamnt Britischer coal" from the last battle, he asks if he can still fire his weapons. The umpire looks at the model – the machine guns are clearly fixed and would need the walker to be able to move to bring them on target. The turret ring, however looks like it might be possible to turn it manually and the guns are conventional cannon rather than anything that might require power. He rules that the Ludwig may fire one of its two main guns without power, with the crew manually rotating the turret ring with hand cranks. He rolls to shoot, but misses.

Card #6 is the German Infantry. Hauptmann Weber now has a difficult choice – the British infantry are in position along the lane and will be able to fire on him from cover if he tries advancing further across the cornfield. If he fires from where he is, only the first two ranks of his compressed mob would be able to fire, which is five riflemen. He could lead them forward into a firing line in the open and gamble on being able to fire before the British on the next round (or maybe even charge to contact). Instead, Hauptmann Weber adopts a more cautious approach and pulls his men back behind the stone wall along the length of the cornfield. He will get the hard cover bonus versus the British fire, which will give him the advantage in a rifle duel.

Card #7 is Major Stiles, who picks himself up and dusts himself off, much to the hilarity of Captain Hurst of the East Surreys, who is barely able to restrain a giggle at his commander's wounded dignity.

"Captain Hurst, sir. Beggin' yer pardon sir, but yer might want to stop ragging on the Major while 'ee has 'is pistol out and 'is murderin' 'ead on."
"Yeeeeeees Sergeant I see what you mean. Good point well made."

Still no real casualties as we're onto...

The Fourth Turn

Card #1 is the German Infantry, who let rip with a volley of rifle fire at the British on the other side of the cornfield (Section 6.5.1 Firing at Personnel p.54). They're just outside of the short range for Breech Loaders (12”) as the field is just a little larger than that across. So the firing is at Long Range, which means the germans need to roll less than half their Shoot score to hit (9 halved = 4.5 so a four or less will hit). In addition the British are behind soft cover (the hedge) and so +1 is added to every die rolled.

Eight troopers plus the Sergeant fire, Hauptmann Weber's pistol is out of range.

The Germans get two hits. The next step is to see which of the men in the target unit are actually hit. A d20 is rolled and the result halved (roll 7, half and round up to 4). The British player counts the men in his unit, front to back (which doesn't matter because they're in a line) and left to right, and every fourth figure is hut, up to the total number of casualties. One-two-three-four, One-two-three-four. The two men hit are Extras and don't have a Save rating, so it's first blood to the Beastly Huns.

Card #2 comes up as the Ludwig walker. Having failed to Sustain last turn, this turn it needs to roll less than its Start to move again, but fails to do so. Again the German player decides to fire one of its Main Guns, and this time hits with a roll of 4. The Gun Truck being only lightly armoured has a Save rating of 9, but the Ludwig's main gun is very good at penetrating armour, with a Save Roll Modifier of +4. So the British player needs to roll a D20, add +4 and get less than its Save rating of 9. The British player rolls a 12+4 = 16. A Penetrating Hit, but not quite enough for a Catastrophic Hit. Grumbling he rolls D20 on the Vehicle Damage Table and gets a 10 - “Random Weapon Knocked Out”. With two weapons to choose from he rolls a simple odds/evens with the result that it's the Gun truck's main cannon that's destroyed. Even if he manages to get the troublesome Gun Truck moving, he's now lost his best weapon against the armoured Ludwig walker.

(NB - This is another rule I've been doing wrong. A vehicle cannot attempt any other actions on a turn that it makes a Start roll. Sec 6.4.3 Movement of Ground Vehicles p.50 this is a clarification/change from the original rules. Because of this, the Ludwig would not have been able to fire this turn as it had attempted a Start roll. But see my response to Buck in the Comments section.)

Card #3 is Count von Hurlitz. He moves a futher 3” deeper into Square Wood, (half movement for rough terrain)

Card #4 is the Gun Truck. The player rolls to start and gets a 19. He sulks.

Card #5 is Major Stiles. He moves 10” up the road to the gate into Square Wood. Because von Hurlitz is more than an inch inside the wood, he can't be seen from outside, so although the British Player knows the count is there, he won't be able to fire at him until he comes closer.

Card #6 is the PO Van. Dobbin plods along another 6” bringing it up behind Major Stiles

The Beastly Boche stalks our hero with cold steel and villainous intent.

Card #7 is the British Infantry. The first thing they need to do is make a Morale test, since they've taken casualties since their previous action (Section 6.10.1 Morale and Tests of Manhood p. 82). The British player rolls 5, -1 for being in soft cover and -1 for having the Unit Leader with them... halved, which rounds up to 2 which is well below the number of men left in the unit.

(NB - Buck's pointed out that I've made a mistake here, the roll should be halved first and then the modifiers applied.)

They prepare to give return fire to the Germans (Section 6.5.1 Firing at Personnel p.54). Again it's at long range, and this time the Germans are in Hard Cover giving them +2 on the roll. Seven men fire (again we're outside of pistol range for Capt Hurst)

Every dice misses. The British player sulks some more.

The umpire smiles inside as he shuffles the initiative deck, then turns the top card over for...

The Fifth Turn

Card #1 is Count von Hurlitz. The German player wants to charge at Major Stiles and run him through, but the British player points out that von Hurlitz is out of sight within the woods and surely couldn't see out from his position. The umpire thinks long and hard about this situation – Stiles is on the outside edge of the wood so it's not unreasonable that he might be seen from inside, depending on how thick the foliage is. There are several ways the umpire could rule this situation...

  • He could say that von Hurlitz can't see out of the wood until he's within 1” of the edge, just the same as if he wanted to fire out of the wood.
  • He could call for a Shoot roll from von Hurlitz, rationalising Shoot as a function of vision and situational awareness, if the roll succeeds, von Hurlitz spots Stiles through a gap in the foliage and may charge him.

In the end the umpire looks at the rule for visibility within a wood. If two units are both in the same wood, visibility between them is 2D6 inches, rolled every turn. If they're closer than the value rolled, they can see eachother and fight. The umpire rules that if the value rolled on 2d6 is greater than the distance from von Hurlitz to Stiles, he's able to see him.

(NB – I actually got this wrong and used the old rules from the original GASLIGHT book. In the Compendium, the new rule is that visibility within the same patch of woods is fixed at 4”. See 6.5.1 Firing at Personnel p.54)

The German player rolls a double six. If a vehicle or unit wishes to charge into contact with an enemy, it normally needs to make a Morale check, but unattached Main Characters like von Hurlitz are exempt from this roll (6.8.1 Close Combat p.66). He does need to make sure he can actually reach Stiles – he's about three inches inside the wood and Stiles is a couple of inches further away from the gate. He rolls the charge bonus movement of d6 and adds it to the regular move of 6” rolling 4 for a total of 10”, easily enough. Normally a unit or vehicle receiving a charge needs to make a Morale check, but again with Stiles being an unattached Main Character he is exempt from the roll. This is a duel to the death between the two heroes.

Each figure involved in the melee rolls a D20 aiming to get less than its Scuffle score, remembering that von Hurlitz gets -1 to the roll because of his Fencing skill. Both however roll way above their Scuffles (15 and 16) and are therefore locked in deadly combat. The melee will resume the next time either figure involved is activated.

Card #2 is the German Infantry. They roll for a second volley of fire against the British infantry, but this time roll no hits at all.

Card #3 is Major Stiles, so we resume the duel with Count von Hurlitz. The British player says that he'd much rather back away from the fight and shoot at von Hurlitz with his superior Shoot score, but decides that it's too cheesy a move and commits to finishing the duel.

The dice gods reward his gentlemanly play. Stiles rolls 2 vs his Scuffle – a hit, while von Hurlitz rolls 14, which even with his -1 is a miss. All Scuffling takes place simultaneously, so even if one side is killed they may still take their opponent with them. Von Hurlitz has missed though and if he were an Extra would now be dead. He has one last chance, as a Main Character gets a Save roll.

"Gott In Himmel! Ich bin ein Kaputnik!"

The German player rolls an 18, which is higher than von Hurlitz's Save rating, and the Count is slain. The British player acts out how, with the two men sabres locked coeur a coeur, Stiles drew his pistol with his off-hand and shot the Count at point blank range. Major Stiles may be an officer, but he's clearly no gentleman!

Card #4 is the PO Van. Dobbin plods onwards, taking him past Major Stiles standing over his fallen foe's body.

Card #5 is the Gun Truck – the British player rolls a 2 and finally gets it to start. With the forward gun out of action he opts to move it up the road to behind the PO van so that the rear Gatling can at least cover the road behind them.

Card #6 is the Ludwig walker. The German player also rolls a successful Start this turn, and this time decides to bring his Heavy Machine Guns to bear on the remaining infantry. He gets three hits, and an 8 is rolled – halved to 4 - to determine the casualty assignment. Counting left to right, the casualties hit two extras (who are killed) and Captain Hurst. Captain Hurst is a Main Character with a Save value of 10, and he rolls a 7. Although the Ludwig's HMGs have a SRM modifier, this isn't applied to Saves by Main Characters, only to Saves due to vehicle or conveyance armour.

(NB - Again by the rules as written in the Compendium, neither the Gun Truck nor the Ludwig should have been able to move or fire in the turn they finally made their Start rolls. See I told you I was going to make mistakes!)

Finally Card #7 is the British Infantry. They've taken further casualties and so need to make another Morale Test (Section 6.10.1 Morale and Tests of Manhood p. 82). The British player rolls a 14, -1 for the unit leader, -1 for soft cover = 12 which is halved to 6. That exactly equals the number of men left in the unit, but to succeed the test the player needs to roll under that number and so the test has failed.

(NB - doing this correctly, the roll of 14 is halved to 7, -1 for the unit leader, -1 for soft cover = 5 which would have passed. Let's just assume that I rolled a 16 or higher and that it failed, so we can see what happens with a failed morale check)

The British player rolls for each figure left in the unit on the Morale Failure Results Chart (Section 6.10.1 p.82) with the result that two men run 12” away from the enemy, two back 6” away and two (including Captain Hurst) are frozen in place and miss this action.

This leaves the unit scattered over quite a wide area. The nice thing about morale in GASLIGHT is that it's stateless. A unit isn't “broken” or “routed” and there's no such thing as a “rally” roll. Provided the unit doesn't take any further casualties before its next activation, the leader will be free to act normally along with any other survivors within the 12” command radius. The two chaps who fled 12” away are however outside this range, so the officer would either have to abandon them, or spend a turn moving towards them so that on the following turn they can move with the rest of the unit.

In actual fact, the players and umpires agreed that at this point the game was effectively over. Major Stiles and the PO Van were within 12” of the table edge, and the Germans had nothing that could cut them off before they would be able to leave the table. Following the death of Count von Hurlitz (the german Army Commander), the other German units would also need to make Morale Checks, but since both Ludwig and the Infantry were undamaged and in good positions, it was almost impossible for them to fail. They might be able to kill a few more troops and possibly destroy or disable the Gun Truck, but there was nothing they could do to capture the PO Van.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

My Tank, My Tank is Fight!

As a brief interlude before I start playing the tutorial game, today I've been mostly attending Britcon, with Jonesy (Mi Hermano del Conductor), Marvin and Tony (another gaming friend). Despite being based in my home city, I've never attended it before, for the simple reason that it's primarily a competitive wargaming tournament with a small trade-show element tacked on. I don't get competitive wargaming, it just goes against everything I find fun in the hobby and has so much potential to lead to unpleasantness.

Nevertheless, Marvin was back in town again and mentioned wanting to go. Jonesy was initially against, but when he mentioned how most of the attendees would be wrapped up in their competitions, so that even the Bring and Buy would be mostly deserted, I leapt at the chance.

The bring and buy didn't disappoint, as for the first time in many years of attending wargames conventions I found myself able to reach the table without fighting through a scrum of unwashed wargamers. I was easily able to find my bargain of the day - two GW Leman Russ tanks ripe for steampunk conversion, for only £5 each. One has been extensively modified with extra "bitz" and a hideous arctic camo scheme, but I'm afraid both are going to be hacked mercilessly and Victorianised for GASLIGHT. I also picked up a copy of Buck's and Chris's "Look Sarge, No Charts - WW2" as a gift for Jonesy (who is coming down off a major Flames Of War addiction) as thank-you for driving.

Apart from the tournament games, the trade section was indeed very small, less than half the number of traders than, say Phalanx from earlier in the year (and positively tiny compared to US cons). I picked up a few Wargames Foundry blisters from their new Victoriana range. But best of all I did get a chance to chat with the chaps from Black Pyramid games, who produce a small but growing range of VSF figures under the "Tea Wars" brand. They had pre-production samples of their upcoming steam-tank range.

Phil from Black Pyramid explained to me the range is going to be rather modular, so you can buy a basic vehicle and then buy expansions and modifications for it. The samples they had were basically upgraded with every add-on part they had to showcase the full extent of the possibilities. This wheeled tractor, for example, has been designed with a reversible main hull. You can turn it upside down, fit tracks or wheels to the long flat bottom edge and you've got a vehicle with a completely different look.

These are large beasties, I'd say about half again or maybe even double the size of the Ironclad steam tanks. Another of the Black Pyramiders (whose name I've forgotten but I think may have been Dave) told me this was a deliberate design choice, in order to make them distinctive. They didn't have confirmed prices yet, but were looking at around the £18-20 mark, which seems entirely reasonable for the weight of resin you're getting - comparable to the Scheltrum landships for example.

We talked a bit more about how useful the expansion packs are going to be to scratchbuilders - I know I'm already mentally ordering a half dozen of those gun sponsons. They're hoping the first of the tanks and expansions will be available sometime in September in time for the Stoke Challenge wargaming show which they're co-sponsoring.

They also produce a range of VSF British in colonial pith-helmets, and a very useful selection of loose weapons and heads. While picking up a few packs of Martini-Henrys I asked again about the obvious gap in their heads offering - while they do pith helmets with or without goggles and Home Service helmets with gasmasks, they don't yet do Home Service helmets with normal heads (without gasmasks). This, they told me, was definitely near the top of their to-do list.

All in all, Black Pyramid were a fine bunch of chaps (and one fetching chapette) who seemed genuinely interested in what potential customers were looking for, and were very kind in allowing me to disrupt their display in order to get these photos. I'm really looking forward to when these steam tanks become available, and if they get the Home Service Helmets sculpted I could definitely see myself picking up a few to convert various figures for the defence of fair Albion.

(Although as I typed this an idea popped into my head. Tea Wars automatic riflemen + Home Service Gasmask heads = Victorian-era Special Airship Service shock-troops.)

Friday, 12 August 2011

This is how we roll

A chap called Scott Bowman on the GASLIGHT mailing list posted that as a complete newbie he was finding it hard to grasp the basics of the rules from the new hardback Compendium. I can't blame him, as the book includes rules from the basic game, Battles, Adventures and Expeditions and To Be Continued all shuffled in amongst each other. It was a design choice, but to be frank not the one I would have made. I still recommend anyone new to the game pickup the PDF of the original book (available from Wargames Vault or RPGNow) and learn the basics from that before cracking open the Compendium.

Scott also suggested a blow-by-blow tutorial of a game to help newbies learn the rules and I think it's a splendid idea. So crack open your copy of the Compendium and hold onto your hats, boys.

Part One – Planning and Preparation

Unlike some games, GASLIGHT needs a little bit of preparation before the game. Firstly we need to sort out the forces we'll be using. The authors recommend that for starting players, one unit of Extras, one vehicle or conveyance and one unattached Main Character is easy to handle. GASLIGHT is generally written written with the assumption that it's being used in a large multiplayer game, with eight players or more some of whom will be playing for the first time. If you're playing a smaller game with one or two players per side, once you get a little more experienced with the rules I think most players should be able to handle double or triple that, though having too much on the table may slow the game down.

Now obviously what troops you use will depend entirely on your collection and what you have available. If you don't have any vehicles in your collection yet, replace the vehicle with a second unit of troops. It just so happens that I've been painting up a selection of 19th century British and German forces, with vehicles, so that's what we'll use. Assuming one player per side, let's start with...


One unit of Regular Infantry

One Gun Truck

One Main Character


One unit of Regular Infantry

One Quad Steam Walker

One Main Character

That's fine for a tutorial but.... it's not very colourful is it? In my experience, you get the best out of GASLIGHT when you approach it with a properly Victorian or Steampunk-y flair. I also think it's easier to identify units if you name their officers, especially if you have multiple players. A player might have trouble remembering if he's commanding “German Infantry #1” or “German Infantry #2”, but he'll remember “Hauptmann Klinkerhoffen and 1st Platoon of Company B” If you're stuck for names of a suitable nationality, I find the 1966 World Cup Squads a useful resource. So let's try that again.


Captain Hurst and 1st Platoon of the East Surrey Regiment

Royal Horseless Artillery Gun Truck “Oliver”

Major Stiles (on detached duty)


Hauptmann Weber and 1st platoon of the Infantry Regiment No 84

One “Ludwig” class Quad Steam Walker

Count von Hurlitz, special agent of the Kaiser

Much better don't you think? Whatever the setting of your GASLIGHT game, whether it's lacepunk pyrates or Darkest Africa, try to give everything colourful names. If you start feeling obliged to put on a silly accent then you're probably doing it right.

Next up we have to stat out all the units. Starting with the regular units, GASLIGHT suggests (Section 3.1 p. 7) that a unit of “western” troops should be made up of two Main Characters (An officer and an NCO) and eight Extras. Personally I don't always bother with NCOs as Main Characters, but for the sake of this tutorial we'll play it by the book. To assign Shoot, Scuffle and Save scores we look at Section 4.1 p.10. Extras are easy, just pick the appropriate values from the table on p.11. All our troops are Westerners/Europeans so Shoot 8 Scuffle 8 is appropriate.

For our attached Main Characters, you can roll on the Character Attributes Chart on p.10 but to save time I like to just assign values based on the two highlighted rows across the middle of the table. I count the officer as a Leader and the NCO as a Veteran. For each Main Character I'll assign each of those two values to either Shoot and Scuffle, then give them a Save equal to the lower of the two values. So for example, the leader column has values of 10 and 11 highlighted. If the officer figure is wielding a sword, I'd give him Shoot 10, Scuffle 11 and Save 10. The NCO might have Shoot 9 Scuffle 8 Save 8.

For the unattached Main Characters I like to actually roll on the Adventurer column. Heroes are particularly powerful in GASLIGHT, and I'd only use them for truly epic characters where appropriate to the scenario.

These are only my personal preference. You can roll everything for every MC, you can manually assign ratings according to a scenario, or based on the figure (so a big bear of a figure wielding a huge axe might deserve a Scuffle of 12 or 13). You could rate each MC with either the higher or lower highlighted value in each trait, so that leaders are always 11 in everything, NCOs are always 9. If you want to put together balanced opposing forces, there's the points value formula in Section 4.3 (p.30) The choice is yours, and one method may work best for a scenario-driven game while a different method might be better for a campaign battle.

Now by the book, all Main Characters have one or more specialist Skills. These are generally beneficial, but there are one or two that are actually disadvantages. Personally I only use these for unattached MCs, or where appropriate to the scenario. For a regular game like the one we're playing for this tutorial, I'm just going to roll once for each unattached MC. Major Stiles rolls a 7 “Swift” giving him a 10” standard move, while Count von Hurlitz gets a 10 “Fencing” which means those years at Heidelberg gives him a -1 on Scuffle rolls (note that GASLIGHT tends to apply modifiers to the die roll rather than the value, making -1 an improvement.)

To arm your troops, scoot forward to Section 6.5 Firing at Personnel and the Missile Attack table on p.55. What weapon you give your troops depends on the figures and the period/style of game. For an ACW game or earlier, Muskets or Muzzle Loading Rifles might be the norm. For the mid to late Victorian period (1870-1890s) I play in, the Repeater/Breach Loader is a good standard weapon (like the good old Martini Henry rifle), which allows you to give primitive troops Muskets while elite modern troops might be lucky enough to have Bolt Action Rifles (like the Lee Metford)

If any of your troops or Main Characters have any weird science or Steampunk weapons, then either rate them as one of the “modern” weapons on the table (for example, the multibarrelled rifle wielded by Vicky Hawkes in the picture on p. 1 of the compendium might cound as a Light Machine Gun) or head to Section 5.2.1 and the Anti-Personnel Weapons Capabilities Chart. Again use your method of choice to generate the stats of the weapon. Personally I'd consider the fictional description of the weapon and assign stats but if all else fails just roll for everything.

Now for the vehicles and on to section 5.1 (p.31) Again you have free choice on how you give stats to the vehicles and weapons. This is one area where I definitely prefer to manually assign values based on the appearance and nature of the model, varying up or down from the highlighted median values. Just as with the troops, to arm your vehicles you'll also want to flit forward to the Heavy Weapons Capablities chart in Section 5.2.1 (p. 36) or the Artillery Effects Table in Section (p.56) or even the table on p55 for Machine Guns.

Looking at the Gun Truck, it has a large gatling-type cannon mounted forward. I could rate this as a Heavy Machine Gun, but looking at the extremely large calibre I'm more inclined to think of it as a quick-firing anti-armour cannon, with a range of 48” and a SRM of +2. The rear of the vehicle mounts a defensive, smaller Gatling gun, which I'd rate as a Gatling gun from the table on p55. Because the truck doesn't appear to be heavily armoured but does offer its crew some protection, I give it a relatively low Save of 9, It's powered, so it would get two rolls on the Steam Column of the Vehicle and Conveyance Capabilities Chart. I think it's fairly modern looking wheels suggest a fast movement, so I'll give it 17” (compared to the 13” you'd get if you rolled the two median values on the table, which is what I take as the baseline for vehicles) Start and Sustain are also alittle higher than the median, given its futuristic (i.e. Edwardian) styling which suggests advanced technology. I originally gave it a median 45 degree Spin rating, but as someone suggested to me just before the game, it really needed a 180 degree Spin to allow it to go from a deployed position (front towards enemy) to a “limbered up” state heading towards a new position.

The Ludwig is a relatively squat beastie, but although its crew compartment is well armoured, it has a lot of exposed machinery around the walking mechanism, so it gets a slightly better Save of 10. I rate the rest of its stats in comparison to other vehicle models I have, making it a little slower than average but able to turn 90 degrees. It's very heavily armed with two short-barrelled but large-calibre guns on the turret ring and two Heavy Machine Guns (which I rate as linked together with an impressive 6 shots against infantry - simply doubling up to 10 shots would have made it far too deadly)

Balancing vehicle forces against each other is a bit of an art. If one side has a lightly armoured vehicle with primarily anti-personnel weapons and the other has a heavily armoured tank with a massive cannon with a +4 SRM, the battle is not going to be balanced. Both the Gun Truck and the Ludwig Walker are “eggshells with howitzers” which should make for a bloody but fairly balanced game.

So with everything statted out and vehicle & unit record sheets filled out, we're almost ready to start the game. The one last thing to do is to create an Initiative card deck, with a card for each unit, vehicle or unattached MC in the game. Personally I like to go to town on these in advance of the game, with attractive card backs bearing the GASLIGHT logo, but I've also in the past turned up to a game with a random selection of toys and a pack of blank index cards which had unit names scribbled onto them minutes before the game started. It really doesn't matter, as long as you have a set of cards that you can shuffle and turn over in sequence, with one card for every unit, vehicle or unattached Main Character in the game.

Coming Next - Part 2 the Game itself.