Monday, 20 May 2013

Three, it's the magic number.

So Sheffield Triples was a fun and productive day out.  I'd gone with three main objectives, of which I managed to complete two.

First stop was Irregular Miniatures, where I procured two 54mm figures, one a 7 Years War officer, the other a Greek hoplite, for use as Victorian-era statuary.  The officer looks quite splendid atop the column I have, while I think the hoplite deserves a slightly lower plinth.

The second, secret objective was to call at Empress Miniatures and procure the Mutton Chop "Sidney 'Dirty Laugh' Cohen & Sidekick"
 Regular readers may remember that I run a  house rule that GASLIGHT characters for whom a custom figure has been explicitly painted or converted, do NOT die permanently on failing their last Save roll.  I did this mainly to preserve my mini alter-ego that I'd painstakingly converted, but left this retroactively open.  At the Battle of Aldershot, Mi Hermano Morituri Jonesy had lost his favourite GASLIGHT Main Character, Sir Roger d'Ars, modelled after Sid James. The above pack made a nice thank-you gift for driving us to the show, and hopefully we may see Sir Roger return to our games.

The third objective, visit the Black Pyramid stand and wobble my lower lip at the lack of Home Service Helmets, was thwarted by the big empty space where their stand ought to be.  Clearly I shouldn't have warned them I was coming.

Other things to see at the show - a fairly spectacular remote-controlled tank battle arena, with an adjacent trade stand selling the very reasonably priced tanks like hotcakes.  £60 for what looked like about 1/12 scale tanks, up to double that if you wanted a metal shell instead of plastic.  There were also a few old-school demonstration games, tying into the Little Wars anniversary. An 18th century game recreating the Battle of Plattsville using Don Featherstone's rules caught my eye, and we had a very pleasant chat with one of the fellows running it, discussing the merits of simple rules, toy soldier aesthetics and home cast figures. Jonesy obviously preached to him the merits of gaming with Lego, but meh, you can't take him anywhere!

I did call by Ironclad Miniatures stand, and lo and behold they didn't have the steam tanks I wanted with them but offered to post them on 'later in the week'.  Long term readers might recall a similar promise back in 2011, which turned into a month's wait with pretty poor communication from Ironclad.  Let's see if things have improved a little since then.

One other thing that struck me was how ubiquitous Zvezda kits are becoming.  They seem aimed at gamers, since unlike many other plastic kit manufacturers, they produce simple models in wargame scales (e.g. 1/100 for 15mm).  Every other stand seemed to have a dump basket full of the 15mm vehicle kits at £2.75-2.99 and either 4 for £10 or 5 for £12.75 offers.  They have me once again seriously considering 1938: A Very British Civil War in 15mm using the Portable Wargame rules.

I'm told that the show was quite busy Saturday, but on Sunday when we went, while there was a good crowd, it wasn't painfully packed out.  For the first time in a long while, I didn't have to fight my way through crowds to get to the Bring & Buy table, which made for a refreshing change.  Sadly there weren't any bargains there to tickle my fancy.

Anyway, 'twas a good day out indeed.

Today Jonesy and I played our first game of In Her Majesty's Name.  But that, as they say, is another story....

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

I'm on my way I'm making it...

It has been decided.  I am being dragged, kicking and screaming, to Sheffield Triples this weekend (probably Sunday).

It's been a while since I've been to any wargaming shows other than Phalanx.   Though I'm not exactly swimming in disposable income right now, I have fallen back on the reserves of the Coin Jar to finance the outing (My rationale is that coins that have languished in a jar for twelve months or more can be counted as "lost and found" falling outside the household accounting system and thus are freed up to be squandered on extra-budgetary treats!)  A lengthy counting-and-bagging session yielded a quite decent budget for the weekend expedition.

I don't want, need, or intend to buy much at the show (famous last words).   While tinkering in the Man Cave the other day I came across some large scenic columns I'd picked up at last year's Phalanx for a steal from the Bring And Buy.  I'm thinking one of them might make a fine pseudo-Nelson's Column with a suitable 54mm figure mounted at the top (to go with the Ainsty lions I bought last year).  Sadly 54mm Lord Nelson figures are thin on the ground, so unless I'm willing to pay Collector's prices (which I'm certainly not!) I'm thinking a generic, 18th century officer figure from Irregular will make a suitable proxy.

I'll also be calling at the Empress Miniatures stand, but I'm afraid what I'm looking for must remain a secret for now.  Loose lips sink ships, and all that.

The Triples web page lists traders but doesn't list demo and participation games, but I'm hoping that the world of 1938 A Very British Civil War will have a presence there so I can say hello.  Regular readers will know that while I don't game the period per se, I do feel a great affinity with it as a spiritual sibling of VSF (and I'm still pondering the viability of doing it in 15mm)

Finally there is one somewhat onerous duty I must perform, and I mention it here to give those concerned fair warning.  I will be going to the Black Pyramid Gaming stand to say hello and to ask what they have in the pipeline for their Tea Wars line.  After listening politely, studying any samples and making any appreciative noises required, I will ask my usual question regarding their possible production of heads with British Home Service Helmets.  When they... inevitably... reply in the negative, citing some technical difficulty or test sculpts with wrongly shaped heads, I will then be a sad panda.  There may even be some lower lip wobbling involved.

Black Pyramid - consider yourselves duly warned.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

In the name of...

I've had a chance to sit down and read "In Her Majesty's Name", the new steampunk skirmish wargame published by Osprey.

It's firmly in the "warband of a dozen or so individual figures" definition of skirmish, rather than the "very small battle with a hundred or so" school that games like GASLIGHT belong to.

Mechanically it's fairly straightforward - roll D10, add modifiers, beat target number.  Figures are statted for Pluck (i.e. morale), Shooting Value, Fighting Value and Speed (which is a rare bonus value, most figures are at Speed 0)

Remember my complaint about Empire Of The Dead, how it restricted you to a narrow set of army lists limited by the boxed sets that Westwind wanted to sell you?  Not only does IHMN give you a broader selection of army lists with pre-generated characters, but you get the points values and formulae to assemble a completely original force from scratch.

The campaign missions in the game are split up into two aspects - Scenarios, which give objectives and deployment instructions, and Landscapes, which are basically suggested terrain types.  Pairing different Scenarios with different Landscapes gives a wide variety of possible games, such as King Of The Hill in the Dockyard, or Catch The Pigeon across the rooftops.  If nothing else the Landscapes descriptions provides some good ideas for terrain-building projects.

I was a little disappointed to see no activation mechanic - players alternate moving figures one at a time until all figures are moved, then repeat the process for firing and melee.

One thing that did irritate me a little - the target number to cause a hit by ranged and melee combat is based on the figure's armour, with most figures in the army lists being equipped  with various breastplates and brigandines.  Sorry chaps, but that really doesn't sit too well with the psuedo-19th century thing for me.  Although steampunk armour isn't unknown, it's far from the norm in the way that it would be in a dark ages or medieval setting.  Basing the core combat resolution around such an exception - not a great move.

All in all though not a bad set of rules, very reasonably priced and fairly open ended.  I hope we get to give them a try soonish.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Those three small words/were way too late.

With sincere apologies to the participants, especially Other Chris who came all the way from Leeds for the game.

I was doing some housekeeping of the files on my Android tablet when it occurred to me that I never did get around to doing the battle report for the Big Birthday Bash 2012.  I'm not sure what it was at that time... the stress off real world events, a touch of ennui perhaps?  For some reason I just never got around to pulling the pictures off the tablet and posting them here.  Whatever it was, it's long past time to put that right.

I can't really give a full and proper battle report, given the time since we played memories of the game have started to get a little fuzzy.  It was, however, GASLIGHT business as usual, with our usual houserules (as published previously on this blog).

The view of the battlefield from behind the German lines.  This was another battle in the "Invasion England" narrative thread used to tie all our GASLIGHT games together.  It was a fairly standard meeting engagement between British and German forces, with a little surprise up the GM's sleeve.  Buildings are a mixture of resin rural buildings, converted HO model railway buildings, and of course the splendid Amera church in the centre of the table as the parish church of St Lucy On the Knees (an in-joke name that I certainly WON'T be explaining on this family-friendly blog)

The view from the British side.  I don't think there were any major new vehicles or figures used in this game, at least by the main combatants.  As usual everyone got a freshly rolled Main Character each, and the two sides got to divvy up the forces I assigned them however they saw fit.

I seem to recall that traffic jams were the order of the day, with the British starting out in a lovely column that rather went to pot when vehicles at the front failed their Sustain rolls.

Both sides had plenty of cover in the early part of the game, with the Germans having to navigate the built up area of the village (which probably had a comical, punny name, now lost to eternity)  The converted HO buildings seemed to pass muster as well, not looking too out-of-place alongside 28mm figures.

If this picture is to be believed, it looks like the Germans made it to the strategically important railway crossing first....

...while the British forted up in the churchyard. 

First blood?  Certainly the first in the pictoral record.  We used the destroyed markers made with tea-lights, which still looked fairly effective in the well lit room.

It was at this point that our friend Crazy Eddy arrived, late for the game.  But the cunning game organizer doesn't merely cope with such inconveniences, he actively seeks to exploit them for the enhancement of the game.  SO cue the arrival of....

The Evil League of Evil, having hijacked the 10:20 to Bumford, with orders from Dr Vesuvius to secure some priceless antique from the church.  The Brass Coffin and ThunderHammer Tank were loaded onto flatbeds and would take a turn to dismount, but the squads of Minions in the carriages were able to immediately fire into the German rear, much to the Huns' consternation.

And lo! It shall come to pass, that whenever gentlemen gather to play GASLIGHT, and both sides haveth steam tanks, always shall there be one bugger who seeketh to ram into the other bugger.

I really like how the Amera Church came out.  It makes a pretty impressive centrepiece on the table (though not as much as the Ministry Building) for a fraction of the price of resin (or even laser-cut MDF)

Meanwhile, the train disgorged its greatest threat... IRON MEN!

This was the first time out using the new Engineer figures for the Iron Men, actually Ironclad Naval Bording Party figures with swords and pistols.  I had originally planned to replace their swords with huge, outsized wrenches, but in the end my modelling abilities let me down and I painted them up straight.  The Iron Men wreaked their usual havok, but not before the Germans had a chance to whittle down the Minions who were also dismounting.

One of our house rules is to give vehicles that have failed Sustain a +1 bonus to Start for every failed Start roll, and we used these markers made from tiddleywinks and watch parts to show the "bits that fell orf" during each failed attempt.  The British made most use of these, as I remember.

The leader of Eddy's Minions fell in single combat with one of the German Main Characters, who proceded to wade into the Iron Men's engineers.  Without direction, those mechanical man-monsters were rendered inert.

Our morale house-rules in action, with half the British unit falling back and the other half running.  This I remember working as desired in the game - it meant that a failed morale check was a nuisance without scattering the unit beyond the point where players felt it was recoverable.

And on the vehicle side, although the Prussian Armoured Pullman (Scheltrum) survived being rammed by the small tankette with only negligible damage, the resulting failed morale check saw it u-turn and retire at flank speed....

...although the tankette's victory celebration was somewhat short lived.

The overall result of the game?  If my memory serves me right it was pretty much a tie.  The British held the churchyard, but were facing the heavy firepower of German Landships & Walkers that meant they might not be able to hold it for long.  I think I need to work on better victory conditions for the scenarios I put on, since a lot of games seem to grind to a halt with neither side having the clear advantage.

I believe that everyone had a decent enough time, including the aforementioned Other Chris who'd finally managed to come all the way from Leeds to join us for a game, and a couple of chaps from MAWS who were playing with us for the first time (Adam and James, IIRC... You still read this blog Adam?)

I've had a specific request from someone to put on another game this August to co-incide with someone else's birthday, so that's probably going to happen.  I'm hoping we might get a smaller game or two in at home before then though.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

All the small things...

The glimmerings of inspiration are returning.  I've just spent a rather enjoyable afternoon pottering in the Man-Cave digging out lots of bits & pieces and getting superglue all over my fingers (and occasionally some on the models I'm trying to assemble)

I've trimmed and assembled the three Vezdekhod tankettes I bought last year from Tobsen, an absurdly quirky little vehicle made all the more ridiculous by the fact that it really existed (albeit only a pre-production prototype that didn't entirely work.  They'll make a nice kick start for the Russian VSF army that's languishing primed and ready to go on the shelves of the man-cave.  I also dug out the four GI Joe mole tank toys that I picked up from the bargain shelf last year and started work on converting them in earnest.  They won't require much work - some filling of holes and cracks and a paint job should have them ready to join the Evil Genius faction.  Finally I dug out the two Games Workshop Leman Russ tanks awaiting conversion into heavy British landships.  One will need to be as close as possible to the existing two vehicles I've converted, but the fourth will be going into Imperial German service as a Beutepanzer, following its capture at the Battle of Aldershot back in March of last year.  I'm taking the opportunity of tweaking the conversion a little, with Maxim-style machine guns instead of the Gatling style I usually prefer.  I believe that the real-world Imperial German army did much the same in WWI, re-arming captured Mk IV tanks with their own weapons.

I guess this renewed enthusiasm for VSF comes from the flurry of new products released for this "period" in the last month.  Sarissa have finally put the new Gaslamp Alley buildings on their website, and they are absolutely luverly.  As soon as I have the disposable income to afford them, they shall be mine, huzzah!

There's also a Kickstarter just been launched for a very interesting VSF (technically Edwardian SF) game called All Quiet on the Martian Front. This game posits the return of HG Wells's Martians in 1910, and has a rather nice selection of tripods and Weird War One tanks to play with.  Sadly for me, the game is in 15mm, two years after I made the decision to switch to 28mm for VSF (and promptly gave away all my 15mm VSF bits) and I'm dashed if I'm going to u-turn now. (Not to mention my current struggles with 15mm in other periods)

One new product that I have managed to budget for is the new "In Her Majesty's Name" ruleset from Osprey.  As a refreshing change from the expensive hardbacks that seem to dominate the hobby these days, IHMN is a very reasonable £11.95 for a print copy or £9.95 for a PDF.  I haven't properly digested the rules yet, but at first glance it looks like a well produced book and I've generally been impressed by Craig Cartmell's other rulesets so I have high hopes.

One thing that did catch my eye was a subsection of the "pre-game" section of the rules.  I'm going to risk courting the wrath of the copyright police and quote it wholesale here, citing fair use for review purposes and... well... frankly if I hadn't been inclined to by the rules before, seeing this section would have clinched the deal for me.

Each player should shake hands with each other player at the beginning and end of each game. A firm grip while wishing your opponents the best of luck is considered most acceptable. This may seem strange but it establishes that this is a game for Gentlemen and Ladies, not scoundrels and yahoos.
This is only a game, and although having a certain level of passion is all well and good, intemperate language or behaviour is not the mark of a Gentleman or Lady. Such phrases as ‘Hear, hear!’, ‘Bravo Sir!’, ‘Play up, play up, play the game!’, ‘Tally ho!’ and ‘You are a dastardly fellow!’ are perhaps the limit we aspire to achieve.  If one cannot do this then perhaps less port should be consumed before the game?
Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men. If there is a rule in this book that you and your comrades in arms do not like, or does not fit the scenario you are currently playing, then change it to suit. However, do not do so unless everyone who is playing agrees to the change.
If you encounter a situation in the game in which the rules don’t seem to work and common sense seems to be in short supply, roll 1d10 and give an even chance to each possible outcome. After the game, discuss the situation further and come a mutually acceptable ruling.
This game is an evening’s entertainment, not planning for the invasion of a foreign power. You should carry out your actions with a certain boldness so as not to delay the actions of your companions.

Now is that, or is that not, simply the most splendid thing you have ever seen in a set of wargames rules?

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Boys are Back in Town

This weekend, for those of you unlucky enough to live in "forn parts", was a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK (i.e. today was a national holiday, making it a long weekend)  As a result, many folks' thoughts turn to leisure activities.  For example, my friend Bruce, a regular attendee of the "Old Farts" gaming night, whose good lady happened to be away on a Girls Day Out on Sunday inspiring him to invite a bunch of us over for a Boys Day In.

When we'd arrived and the question was asked "what shall we do today?"... I leapt straight in with the inevitable answer "WE SHALL PLAY WITH TOY SOLDIERS."

Now Bruce is a veteran wargames dabbler, with an impressive man-cave of bits and bobs collected over the years.  He's particularly interested in matters naughtical, mainly in the Napoleonic and World Wars eras, and being of the Scottish persuasion is also interested in matters pertaining to folks with names like "Robert The" and "Bonny Prince".  But his dabbling nature means he doesn't tend to have a regularly played game and/or armies ready to go, the way regular player of, say Flames of War or one of the Warhammers might.  Putting together an instant pick-up game was a matter of poking through boxes till we found some interesting figures, then poking through another set of boxes till we found some rules to go with them.

(In case it sounds like I'm being disparaging, I was exactly the same way until I got my 28mm GASLIGHT armies sorted a year or so back)

Anyway the first game we settled on paired a box of what looked like Redoubt's 3 Musketeer figures with Ganesha Games "Flashing Steel", based on their Song of Blades & Heroes system.  Between us we cobbled together a scenario that saw Rochefort & the Cardinal's Guard searching a small French village for the Queen, who was returning from an assignation with Buckingham, while the Musketeers sought to escort her to safety.  Surprisingly, the rules didn't provide any sample characters, so we basically read through all of the games Special Rules and collaboratively assigned them to the various named characters, based on our favourite movie versions. (I have to confess I shamelessly mix my movie versions, favouring Ollie Reed's Athos from the 1970s and Ray Stevenson's Porthos from the most recent remake)

What was notable about the game was how bloodless it was for the first hour and a half, despite being full of action.  The rules used the usual 1d6 + combat rating + modifiers opposed roll system used by most Ganesha rules, with the winner normally needing double the loser's total to put them out of the fight.  Although we had lots of pushback results, nobody ever quite managed a straight double result.

The stalemate was broken when Rochefort and Athos both arrived at the village church at the same time, facing off down the aisle.  The ensuing duel lasted three or four game turns, seeing both parties knocked down and the advantage passing back and forth.  In the end, Athos managed to land a hit while Rochefort was knocked down, which turned it into a killing blow.  In fact almost all the casualties in the game came from this rule.

Once damn had broken casualties came thick and fast.  Athos came to the rescue of his brothers-in-arms, saving a fallen Aramis by skewering a guardsman>  But in the hard fought melee Aramis fell again a few rounds later and was slain, with Athos succumbing a few rounds later.  D'Artagnon found himself facing off against three guardsmen by himself, and under the weight of numbers was knocked down and killed, with the valiant Porthos following suit a couple of turns later.

With hindsight we possibly made the Cardinal's Guard better than the should have been in such a cinematic game, a situation made worse by the fact that half of their figures were armed with a main-gauche off-hand dagger, letting them roll a second defensive dice in every combat.  But it was a great fun game and something  we must try again soon.

For the second game of the day, after briefly looking over Bruce's collection of Redcoats and Clansmen, bought in bits and bobs over the years and all on different basing schemes, we settled on a Napoleonic naval game.  Now despite being an age-of-sail nut and having quite a collection of 1/1200 ships, Bruce doesn't actually have a set of rules he plays, even semi-regularly.  Time for another dive through the boxes of the man-cave until we found a likely candidate in Strange Tydes by Wessex Games.  Now although this was written for a "Napoleonic Fantasy" world in the vein of Flintloque, I'd heard good things about it as a general-purpose fast-play age-of-sail game.

The game uses a 5 phase movement system that would be familiar to players of Car Wars or Star Fleet Battles, and the familiar 1d6+combat rating opposed roll, with the amount by which the firer exceeds the target's roll translating into points of damage.  For some reason, both sides struggled to inflict damage on the other throughout the game, although within the first two turns the lead ship in my division took two critical damage results telling me that first the captain had been killed, and then the ship's parrot, after which the ship struck its colours and surrendered.  I can only assume that the first officer really didn't care for his Captain but man he really loved that bird!

Despite everything we all had a blast and several of us went away with plans to hack the game to solve various issues for a future replay.  All in all it was a cracking day's gaming.

Today, Mi Hermano de Fiesta Jonesey came round for the Bank Holiday, and we decided to take advantage of the sunny weather by having a painting.crafting session outside.  He worked on basing some 15mm SF figures and painting & rebasing some GZG spaceships, while I looked at my own 15mm modern/street violence figures, long shelved since the very earliest days of this blog.

Here's the funny thing.  I used to be a great proponent of 15mm gaming, even with rules and periods where 28mm dominated.  They offer so many advantages - cost, storage, playing room - 15mm makes a lot of sense, and some of the sculpts we're seeing today in the smaller scale put some older 28mm figs to shame.  And yet, looking down at the pile of unpainted 15mm figures in front of me, I just couldn't get excited about them.  I kept thinking "Why should I spend time working on these?  I don't know if my paint method is going to work on them?  I know it'll work on the 28s, why don't I do those instead?  God these things are so tiny!"

In the end I resolved to force myself to work on one set of figures - a group of Rebel Miniatures US-style police officers, as a testbed for my usual "daub and dip" technique, to see whether I'd be happy with the result.  I found I was really struggling to work on them, and only managed to get them primed and started, but will persevere.  While waiting for the primer to dry, I grabbed all the remaining primed TAG 28mm US Marines from the man-cave painting table and started painting their guns.  I figure they were such a simple paint job last year (guns, skin and a couple of picked out details) they should make for a quick win to start this year's painting season.

It might seem counter-productive to be working on both 15mm and 28mm figures for the same period and style of game.  It probably is.  But with all the 28mm terrain bought for VSF/Steampunk gaming that can be repurposed, I can easily put on an impressive table, whereas in 15mm I'll be starting from scratch again.  Whether the advantages offered by the smaller scale will make that worthwhile remains to be seen.