Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Lundella's Lane, 1814

Marching to the sound of indecision
Unusually, my friend Giovanni and I both had the day off last Friday.  That gave us a rare opportunity to get in a quick Napoleonics game. 

He was anxious to try out his newly-painted infantry and dragoons from the Kingdom of Italy, so in the absence of any painted Allied troops we decided it would have to be the French putting down a revolt of treacherous Italian turncoats, who are trying to suck up to the Allies now that things have started going pear-shaped for the Little Corporal in the aftermath of Leipzig.
North Italian Rabble
I really need to paint up a critical mass of Prussians and Russians.

Anyway, it was scenario #8 out of my now well-thumbed copy of Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames, and is loosely based on the War of 1812 Battle of Lundy’s Lane, 1814.

Now I did say it was a quick game; unfortunately, we weren't able to reach a conclusion as Giovanni could only stay until mid-afternoon- he understandably had to be home when his daughter got back from school. 

So out of the 15 turns called for in the scenario, regrettably we could only get 7 turns in 3 1/2 hours.  Matt and I could probably have gotten in a dozen turns over that time- Giovanni is a wonderful friend and fantastic painter, but he hadn't played Black Powder for a while, and anyway he is never the fastest at planning and making moves. 

Perhaps we should encourage him to do an Austrian army.

Back to the scenario; we each had six units. His were all standard-sized units with one of them being an elite Grenadier battalion of Royal Guards.   One battalion was of light infantry, two were line, and the remaining two units were a battery of artillery and his newly-mustered dragoons.

On my part I had four, large line infantry battalions, a battery of artillery and, in a touching instance of hope over experience, cavalry support in the form of my ill-starred Red Dutch Lancers of the Guard. 
Italian Guard Grenadiers in assault column
Lundy's Lane was a confused meeting engagement, very hard fought, and the scenario reflects this.  

Giovanni starts the game with two units on a hill, I come on with three; he had two further units coming on in turn three and another two in turn seven, while I had another three units- two of infantry and my lancers- come on in turn four. All marching to the sound of the guns.
The French start with three marching to the right along the road.  The Italians have two units on the hill, in this case an artillery battery and a unit of Guard Grenadiers
Despite the difficulties of the attacker having to clear a hill without clear superiority of numbers, it balanced out.  Italian support comes in in drips and drabs, and Giovanni rates as an overly-cautious commander- without there being need for any artificial rule mechanisms. 
Italians defending the prize.  The French have to be in possession  of this hill by the end of the game.  We simply ran out of time.
Like a lot of the scenarios in OHWG, it was one that would really come down to the wire, so we really needed the full fifteen moves to reach a conclusion.
Stamping out rebellion...
And of course, the lead unit takes one shot from a skirmish stand, and of course it rolls a six; disorder.
Forcing me to support it with another unit in column, one I had earmarked for a different task.  The military calls this "friction".  I call it "fucked".
Italian reinforcements enter stage right, and form into line.
Soon followed by the other half of the French army, but they would be turning off to the left and marching parallel to the hill for the assault.
Flank march!
My Guard Lancers in the lead, knowing that they would be needed to skewer some haughty Italian dragoons.  Artillery indulges in a bit of counter-battery fire.
The Prussian colour is actually a disorder marker on the Italian artillery. Good, good...
Meanwhile the lines kept up an inconclusive firefight/

One Italian battalion marches towards my flanking force.  I like those odds.

At this point we had the first unit removed from the game, as I destroyed his light infantry battalion- victim of a (un)lucky chain of fate.  A bad roll on a crucial volley he needed to win, followed by a devastatingly good one in reply from my French.  With three hits over his break point, cue the necessary morale test, where he went on to roll a modified four on the table.

Arrividerci, baby...

"Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop"
A very pleasing gap in the line, but no time left to exploit it.
Up to this point Giovanni's left flank had been fairly secure, but with one less unit in play it opened up possibilities.  I could now put pressure on his flank while launching a frontal assault on the hill. 
The last reinforcements enter the table, Italian infantry and dragoons.  Soon after this we had to call the game.
Newly-painted unit syndrome, and the first move of the Italian dragoons was a blunder.  Nothing dramatic, unfortunately, just a move in the direction he wanted to go anyway.  I had the same thing happen to my artillery- in neither case was any harm done.

I wasn't worried about his cavalry, but I would need to draw off his only remaining fresh infantry unit.
These guys would have to go first.  Can't leave them ensconced on the hilltop.
Artillery were having a great time banging away at each other; both were near breakpoint when time was called,
Unfortunately, as mentioned we ran out of time at the seven-turn mark; I was nowhere close to seizing my objective, which would be a tough position to take.

But with eight more turns still to go a lot could happen, and I was preparing to launch a concerted attack on the hill. So under the circumstances it was decided to call it an inconclusive draw.

Quite frustrating, actually.

We had decided to use the optional rule from p.96 of the Black Powder Clash of Empires supplement, that has units in line move a lot slower, due to having to maintain formation.  In our case as we were using reduced movement, this meant they would move at only 5", and would have to roll for forming square if attacked by cavalry- no automatic square.

I feel that not only does this better reflect the difficulties of moving in line, especially in the age of conscript armies, but it also encourages more use of attack columns. These benefit from being easier to command with their +1/ +2 to command ratings, which can make all the difference when you have a less-than-stellar staff rating.

The game was also a salutary lesson in the desirability of avoiding inconclusive, attritional firefights. We had what was essentially a fair fight between two infantry battalions on either side (I had large units with four firing dice each, but one didn't have a clear field of fire, so it ended up six dice (4+2) vs. six (3+3).

Fair fights are to be avoided at all costs.

They are never a good situations to be in as it leaves way too much up to chance. And once you are disordered- which is always likely as the opponent just has to roll a 6- then you are just have to continue firing away. Historical, but it won't help you win games if you can't deal with the enemy decisively and quickly.

Making that simple modification to the Line rule should make the whole thing more "Napoleonic" than has sometimes been the case in our previous games, and the lengthy yet unproductive firefight just hammered home the fact that not only are attack columns much more flexible and easier to control than units in line, but you want to keep maneuvering to try and have more units shooting at the enemy than he has shooting at you.

I did wonder about whether in such small games we should reduce the chance of disorder, or at least make it possible for a player to get out of it. Elite units have this ability, but I wonder if all units should have at least some chance, if for no other reason than to give a player some sense of being in control, even if that roll is failed.

Something to consider. With big, Perry-sized games and enough units on the table, this really isn't an issue; but in our games with half a dozen units a side it might speed things up a bit. I'm not yet totally convinced, and the jury is still out.

But all things considered it really was a great scenario, tough and challenging for attacker and defender alike.  I really want to give it another go, and to play it out to its full conclusion. 

And of course it was good to be playing Napoleonics once again after a long absence.

Next time I'll bring a stopwatch.
These colours don't run!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Night Attack on the Shilohwaddy, and the Navy's here!

Back to Burma for this posting.
Japanese assault troops.  Classic light infantry; you don't always need a lot of heavy weaponry for a good game.
Since March there has been a dearth of posts, and indeed of gaming.  This was down to the usual culprits; work and family commitments, visa renewal hoop-jumping, and even getting back into playing jazz on the bass guitar again (a change is as good as a rest).

But the urge was there, and I had been hankering for some kind of game.  Finally, after lengthy negotiations Matt and I were able to get together in late June for a Bolt Action Burma Bash at my place.

This was followed a few weeks later by a small Napoleonic engagement, of which more in a future post.

The Bolt Action game saw another victory for my fearsome IJA; yet again with a little help from my (evidently bolshie) friends in the Royal Artillery.

The first idea was to play another game in a long running and very intermittent Kokoda Trail campaign, only to realize that I didn't have the necessary mule teams painted  in time for the game.  

So instead I thought we would turn once again to that indispensable source of inspiration, the scenarios contained in Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames.

We have played many scenarios from OHWG so far, both with our Dark Ages and Napoleonic armies, but this was the first time to use it for WW2 and Bolt Action.

The scenario we are running was #27, Disordered Defense, and was inspired by the Battle of Shiloh of all things, with the Japanese taking on the role of the Confederates.

We dispensed with any point-based army lists for this one- we simply didn't need them, as the orbats were specified in the scenario (although tweaked around a bit to make it more suitable for Bolt Action).  

This would be an infantryman's fight; no tanks or vehicles.  My Japanese would have three, ten-man veteran units (squads in BA terms) plus a medium mortar (with spotter) and a command team.

These stalwarts would be pitting themselves against three regular Commonwealth squads (my customary opponents, Matt's fictional King's Own Academicals), a command team, and another infantry squad, this one made up of veteran Gurkhas.  In support was a Vickers MMG, along with a spotting team for the "free" artillery barrage that the Commonwealth troops get in BA.  

The Commonwealth have two units on table at the start of the game, the rest come in later, on turn #8.  All the Japanese enter the table at the south edge in turn #1, moving lengthwise across the table to the towards their objective, a crossing over a meandering stream, located not far from the northern table edge. 

Our mission- clear the area south of the crossing of Allied troops, and have at least one unit on the northern side of the stream by the end of turn #15.

The table was considered all jungle except for 25mm on either side of the huts, roads and the stream. Jungle was soft cover, and any jungle terrain pieces were considered particularly dense patches that were impassable, and which would block line of sight.

No running, so maximum movement was six inches. For a charge, a run had to be declared, but the distance moved would still be only six inches (you just try running across a new growth jungle floor one day, and see how far you get).

The stream was deemed fordable all along its length, being in effect a very wet road (albeit one infested with leeches).
To add some spice to the proceedings, I thought we would have the action take place at night, using the rules given in the Empire in Flames supplement.  

We selected the Flare! variant, so every turn we were to have rolled a dice; on a four or more, a flare would have illuminated the battlefield with no need for spotting rules for that turn. This in fact never happened, for the simple reason that we kept forgetting to roll the dice. 

Next time.
The two fences simply marked where the two Commonwealth units that began the game on table would be.
The crossing.  If there were any British troops left on the south (lower) side of the fordable river by turn 15, it would be a Commonwealth victory.  Otherwise the Japanese would win.
The game kicked off with the Japanese making a general advance; one squad on the left, another going up along the left of the road, and the third inching its way towards the squad on our right. 
Stealth and speed, men!
The plan was to take out the spotter team, and then use one squad to flank the British in Zone 2, while our right-hand squad would try to work its way around the British left flank and hopefully take them in a crossfire.

As it turned out, the Royal Artillery saved us the bother.
Major Bloodnock sees the advancing Japanese- and promptly loses his {blue?) bottle...
Major Bloodnock, RA; an officer whose hat is worth a good 10,000 men on the field of battle- to the enemy, that is.  This worthy gentleman once more proved himself to be mathematically challenged- if not, in fact, an outright fifth-columnist.

Matt rolled an outcome that saw me able to place the dice where I saw fit.  Of course, I placed it plumb smack in the middle of his forward infantry squad. 
Gulp...
The subsequent roll did not miss, and a hail of Sheffield steel rained down -again- on his hapless infantry. 

Matt’s reaction, I have to say, was remarkably stoic. I would have been cursing the Gods. This was the third time an artillery barrage had ended up not just falling on friendly heads, but in effect had put the kibosh on his chances of victory. 
"All out..."
I don’t think the King’s Own Academicals could any longer be quartered in the same province as RA troops, let alone the same barracks, given the bad blood that must now exist between them. 

If I were a gunner I’d be hiding my arm of service badges.
"'Ere, they've buggered off!"
"So they 'ave- they've scarpered!"
It’s rumored that Major Bloodnock’s last reported sighting was in a small village in rural Bolivia, working as an itinerant musician and selling souvenir reed-pipes.
Battle-hardened Japanese troops move up in the night, bugles blaring and reeking of sweat, shit, and sake.
"Almost there!"
Eyes on the prize, lads...
The Japanese set up a position overlooking the crossing.
Rather remarkably, my mortar team actually hit something, landing some rounds on the British Vickers team lurking in a hut, and managing to take out a number of its crew.  

Mortars are largely ineffective in BA terms when compared to other weapons, as targets rarely stay still long enough for the mortars to range in on them.  But this time the boys did good.

By the end of turn #13, victory was in sight.  The area south of the crossing had been cleared of the enemy; I had destroyed his Vickers MG, taken out his C/O team, and sent a much-depleted squad back across the river where it pretty much cowered for the rest of the game.  
My right-flank squad repels an attack after a fierce firefight,  Next turn it will cross the stream and dig in behind the copse on the lower right.
Getting one's boots wet for Victory and the Emperor.
My own squad followed the foe over the river and got an essential toe-hold on the north side of the crossing.  

So far things were going exceedingly well for the Japanese, but any potential success would be thrown away if the Commonwealth forces got as much as one unit on the south side of the river, thus giving them the victory.

With one squad routed, and another reduced to a terrified cadre cowering in the underbrush, Matt had just two full-strength squads left in play by this time.  

One of these was a squad of regulars, who after entering the table on turn #8, mysteriously just kind of holed themselves up in a hut and passed their time brewing cuppas and swatting mosquitoes.  Either they were waiting to see if the war might suddenly come to a convenient end, or else they were trusting in Matt's other remaining squad to pull His Majesty's chestnuts out of the tropical fire.
Underemployed, underpaid, under pressure-  but in no great hurry.
This other squad were the Gurkhas.

These were veteran (in the rules as written they always are), and had been placed on ambush not more than two moves away from being able to cross to the other side of the stream, so they were a real danger.

I decided that I could afford to have one squad gutted if it meant drawing the teeth from this very menacing threat, so resolved to move up against them by ordering my squad into the river- out of cover but well within spotting distance of the enemy- and then Banzai! charge them.

As is, of course, the done thing when you are playing the Japanese.

Of course I’d lose a lot of men to incoming fire and melee; but if I could shave the strength of the Gurkha squad down by even just a third to a half, my neighboring full-strength squad should be able to make short work of the survivors.

As it turned out, I bit off somewhat more than I could comfortably chew.
Kukris of Kryptonite.
Gurkhas; tough troops, a good fighting reputation, and certainly deserving in being set somewhat apart from their compatriots in arms.

But damn it, Warlord has turned them into a veritable Nepalese Death Star- on steroids. Gurkhas scornfully kick sand right into Chuck Norris' face- and he hasn't the guts to stop them. 

In close combat they are pretty much indestructible. I halve my attack numbers; they double theirs. And did I mention they are always veterans?

Now had I known- I don't have a copy of the Armies of Great Britain supplement- I would probably have done things differently.  Suggesting we finish early and go out for a beer instead, for example. 

But I had committed myself to the charge; and in my profoundly misplaced confidence I duly advanced my squad across the stream, the men lustily screaming out Banzai!! 

All of which clearly didn't seem to unduly trouble the Gurkhas. 
 
"てんのへいか、ばんざい!"
The Gurkha's CO gives his orders...
Before even getting into contact I had lost almost half of them to uncommonly accurate incoming fire.  

Ouch.

And just to add insult to injury, it was about the only time the whole game Matt rolled anything better than an average result.

"Oh, SHIT!!!"
When the battered survivors actually got into contact, it just got worse.  

Much worse.  

"Draw your KUKRIS!"
You wouldn't believe the amount of melee dice Matt could roll; while I, of course, had to reduce my own pitiful number of dice by half.

By the time the double-whammy of melee had been worked out I had lost the squad.

The-whole-damned-entire squad.
"Well, THAT was quick!"
The Ghurkas had gotten away with barely a scratch- although it was later determined that Lance Naik Thadapur Rai had, in fact, lost a fingernail while carelessly slamming home a fresh clip into his Lee-Enfield in all the excitement.  

Even Matt, while enjoying what was in effect the only ray of sunshine to illuminate Commonwealth fortunes throughout the game, thought that this was way over the top. So by mutual agreement, the next time they see action the Gurkhas are going to be de-fanged. 

They will still be fearsome, but forcing a morale check with some kind of modifier- especially when getting up close and personal with a kukri- should be enough, without necessarily turning them into a squad of crazed Nepalese Terminators.

Nevertheless, and at the cost of being lavish with the blood of the Emperor’s devoted servants, at least we did buy time.  The Gurkhas had been held up a turn repelling the Japanese attack, and it was clear that the clock was fast running out for them to actually get across the river and set themselves up on the south bank.
Too little, too timid- and far too late.
So despite having to put up with that unpleasant little speed bump, by the end of the 15th and final turn the Gurkhas were still north of the stream.  That meant I had successfully expelled the enemy from the area south of the crossing, with a squad of my own infantry dug in on the northern side.  

The game had ended in an undisputed Japanese victory.

But I couldn’t help but think that had the Gurkhas been in play right from the start, positioned well forward so as to start inflicting damage from the get-go, and if the Royal Artillery officers hadn’t failed their "A" levels math examinations, then the outcome may well have been different. 

At least it would have given me a lot more worries.

Had my squads been carved up early in the game, having three regular units coming on in turn eight against a mauled Japanese attacking force meant that the outcome would have matched that of Shiloh much more closely.

As it was, the butcher’s bill for the fight was quite lopsided; I inflicted twenty-six casualties (with a bit of help from the RA, admittedly), and in turn only lost thirteen. Mind you, ten of these were as a result of me having unwittingly thrown that one squad into the Gurkha wood-chipper.

Although it must be said that the Dice Gods were clearly favouring rice and raw fish over bully beef and chapattis this day.

And it wasn't Matt's best game.  Matt is a great opponent; a real gent and sportsman, he never gives up.  He possesses considerable tactical acumen, nerve, and is a dangerous and challenging opponent on the wargaming table.  

But this time he was having very much an off day, and playing uncharacteristically cautiously.  I think that when he at his usual form, he would have given me much more a run for my money.

One thing we realized is just how tough it is to take out veterans. Regulars have a hard time against them- I can’t imagine what possible good inexperienced troops would be, unless to provide a meat shield. 

Put them in fortifications, and with a larger number of weapons being fired downrange, and I suppose they have their uses. Probably historical, but I wouldn’t want to be in their field boots.

A great game with never a dull moment.  The night fighting rules worked well, and like all the scenarios in OHWG the game went right to the wire, regardless of the era being played.  That book is simply excellent value for the money. 

This was how I like my Bolt Action games to play.  Infantry-focused, lots of suppressing, flanking and movement, and all the time facing historical opponents over historically plausible terrain.  

Neither Matt nor myself are fans of those games where you pick an arbitrary point limit, create a list, and end up fighting ahistorical opponents over ahistorical terrain.  A lot of people here like to play games like that- in fact it's often unavoidable given the variety of different wargames armies out there- and that's absolutely fine. But it's just not our thing.

And it doesn't mean we're about to drop everything and take up CoC.   

For a start, the issue of point costs have just never come up in our games as we tend to play scenario-driven games, using points as a way to get some approximate parity of forces without feeling any need to scrutinize lists.  Terrain, experience, and the vagaries of luck often negate any attempt at balancing force composition anyway.

And as the mechanics of BA are fundamentally sound, they will take a good amount of tweaking.  Something jars with the rules as written? Then we decide what would work, and agree to change 'em for the next time round.  Then we just get on with the game.  

I've always approached my wargames like that, and I always will.

We're having a ball.
*****
Now on to some recent hobby acquisitions. 

I now have a Japanese “fleet” on the slipway, ready to patrol the Irrawaddy against Matt’s Commonwealth forces.

One is an unusual but sleek-looking armoured motor patrol boat, an AB-Tei Type C.  Just the thing for covering a Japanese supply convoy along the coast, and considerably well-armed for it's size.

The gunboat is a hefty model given its length, but the resin is both light and high-quality, the casting flawless. A simply beautiful model of an interesting, useful and off-beat subject.  

The second craft is a small landing boat.
The landing boat is indeed designed just for carrying personnel and supplies. Barrage have the Sherman pictured above with several different models, just to give an idea of scale.

I anticipate a craft full to the gunwales with a squad of infantry, patrolling along the coast, and ready to go inland and search for pesky coast watchers or bailed-out Allied aircrew, while the gunboat provides any fire support as needed.

Barrage also do a very nice model of a Daihatsu landing craft, which can carry a Japanese tank, but that one is for a future order. Generally, though, I tend to do better when I don't rely on armoured vehicles. Give me an additional squad of fanatics with bayonets, loaded to the gills with seishin and sake, any day of the week.

Based in Spain, Alf at Barrage was really helpful. Initially I had to email him, as his site wasn’t set up to receive orders from Japan. He replied within minutes, and after an exchange of e-mails he soon fixed things so I could order online.  I had mentioned that we have an active Bolt Action community here, and he sent me a .pdf file of his rules for using gunboats and other riverine craft. 

The models arrived much sooner than I had expected, and to add to my satisfaction, I found he had thrown in a model of a Shinyo kamikaze motorboat as well.

I can easily imagine a raid on a small harbour installation by British commandos trying to destroy it before it could cause any havoc with an Allied amphibious landing.  It would make a great scenario for Bolt Action. 

So I couldn't have asked for more.  Barrage is simply a great vendor to deal with, and with a lot of exciting models in the catalogue. 

Highly recommended. Go, Navy!


*****
Away from Bolt Action and the Far East, but staying with WW2, I also got myself a box of plastic Italian tanks in 15mm for my North Africa project, but more on that in the future. 

Some breakfast for the Matildas.
Lorenzo's Rams sounds suspiciously like it should be the name of some gay porn flick from the 1980's, but the vehicles themselves are nicely moulded and easy to put together.  The box came with a free set of FoW rules, too. 

I played the first edition of FoW way back in 2003 with Kris, my late and much-missed friend, while visiting him in Frankfurt.  We were using his 1940 French and German models in 20mm.  The game was fun, and we had no issues with parking-lots full of fender-to-fender tanks.

Next up, a report on a Napoleonics game that I had with Giovanni here the other day.