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.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Wurst Case Scenario

As promised, pictures of our last game, this one was fought on February 25th. 
"Hans!  Ich muss dringend mal pinkeln"   
 Prussians by Old Glory.  Painted by James Kelly, now in Chiba.  
He used to paint for Old Glory magazine back in the day; these are now in Giovanni's collection.
A vengeful force of Prussians, along with their sausage-scoffing, beer-swilling acolytes, the Bavarians, had entered into an unholy alliance with some Italians and Poles.  In a short and brutal engagement they effectively wiped the floor with the hapless French- although it must be said that les bleus went down fighting. 

The Allies were assisted in no small measure by the Dice Gods, who on this occasion clearly decided that they hated Gallic Guts with a real passion.

This was another one of our usual brigade-sized games using a scenario from Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames, this one a very entertaining and challenging "not-Leuthen" scenario based on an original by Charles Grant (it can be found on p.78: Scenario #7 Flank Attack (2) in Neil's book).

Most importantly, we may have successfully initiated a new gamer, Erik, into the mysteries and joys of Napoleonic wargaming. 

Erik had been toying for a while with the idea of trying out some horse & musket gaming (he hails from Maryland, and in the past had been taken around many an ACW battlefield).  Unfortunately, fate was to show no mercy to new recruits, and would deal him a cruel hand when it came to die throws.

Giovanni commanded the Germans, Erik had the French. Erik had never played Napoleonics before, and Giovanni was rusty after months and months of playing mainly Bolt Action.  

I was the one with, by far, the most experience with the rules. So I thought it best to sit this one out, and instead I would act as chief rule-looker-upper and scenario umpire.  
Le Champ de Mars; note the Martian.
The sleepy town of Not-Leuthen.  It was untouched by the horrors of war for the duration of the game.
The Germano-Italian-Polska Alliance assembles.
Doomed French await their dreadful fate.

My ill-used 7e Chasseurs à cheval were- yet again- to have their lives uselessly sacrificed by a callous high command.

The Ducal Lancers of Prince August Vztmrk of Cyrntzkvystk, direct descendant of the legendary prince who, in 1423, banished the vowel from the Polish Language.
The scenario has a defending force of six units ensconced on hill.  These are facing a small force of two enemy battalions (although as the Prussians were fielding one average-sized and one small battalion, and the French battalions were deemed large, we added a small contingent of Bavarian Schutzen). 

Suddenly appearing on the French left is a flanking force of four Allied units, taking the defenders unaware- Merde!! 

The defenders have to quickly re-orient their lines to face the new threat, while at the same time holding off the small force to the front.

It's a challenge for the defending force, but it can be done.  Provided, of course, you don't position your artillery uselessly on the right flank for the first few turns. And, of course, it does help if your troops can actually hit the broadside of a barn- while inside the barn.

As I mentioned, Erik had the most appalling run of luck on the dice, while Giovanni's Germans were pulling rabbits out of their lucky shakos, allowing him to get away with suicidal maneuvers and unnecessary risks that should really have been punished by a quick trip to the battlefield abattoir.  Just proving that there is no justice in this world.

Despite being umpire, I confess to secretly wanting to have seen my beloved French succeed.  But I needed to remain fair and utterly neutral, so was kibitzing with both sides.

On numerous occasions I found myself having to talk both commanders out of making some obvious Bad Move.  I did this with commendable impartiality (I think), although there were many occasions involving mental face palms, eye-rolling, and barely-restrained sucking of teeth.
"Mais non! C'est incroyable!  Mes pauvres soldats!"
French line seen from the front.  Note how uselessly placed the guns are.
The flanking force.  The similarly poorly-positioned Bavarian hussars never saw action, nor had a shot fired against them.  
View of the start positions from the French right.  They needed to quickly see off the Prussians to the front, and then turn to face the Italo-Polish-Bavarian menace to their left.
The French should have won this one.  
They didn't...
Disorder markers start appearing, as welcome as acne after a chocolate cake binge
The French finally did see off one of the Prussian battalions.  But it's a case of too little, too late, and at too high a cost.
"Stop making all that damned bloody noise!"

No mercy...
The cavalry spent most of the game charging each other to little effect.  
Late in the game the Poles managed to destroy a French square that was already well beyond its break point.

A rather heavily-mauled French brigade finally manages to form a perpendicular line to face the flank attack.
Time to roll up the French flank
"Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!"  Scratch one French line unit.  
When playing games this small, you can ill-afford any losses.
Bavarian infantry take the high ground; the Allied objective was to be in control of the hill by the end of 15 turns.
End game for French fortunes.  Their artillery about to be routed, one remaining infantry unit pushed back off the hill with its back to the river.  
Time to throw in the towel- Sauve qui peut!

All in all, a fun game and a very good scenario, one we'd all like to try again, with some small tweaks in deployment, set-up conditions, ranges, and with perhaps more uncertainty as to when the flanking force appears.

We were originally planning on trying out some of the rules in the new Warlord Games' Black Powder supplement, Clash of Eagles. But other than reduced ranges and move distances to fit our table, to keep things simple we decided to just play the game as per the basic rule book. No point in complicating things.

As it was, we could probably have gotten in another game in the time available to us, given that this one was over in a measly seven turns. But the game took longer than what I have been used to; as mentioned Erik was new to the game, and Giovanni hadn't played in a while.

In addition, Giovanni- bless 'im- tends to approach every move, of every unit, in every turn like some golfer lining up that final critical putt on the 18th hole in the PGA. I'm not sure whether to introduce a stopwatch for turns, or just rely on a subtle hint followed, if necessary, by a quick gentle kick up the butt. Both solutions have their appeal.

Mind you, to be fair we did take a long break for a rather excellent pizza and some beers. An army marches on its stomach.

Erik is a great guy to game with- as he was when he graciously snotted my IJA with his Afrika Korps during our Bolt Action tournament last October- and will fit in well with the old crew. Despite the outcome, Erik took a great interest in the rules and period.

It seems he enjoyed Black Powder a lot, despite Lady Luck throwing him to the wolves whenever he had to make a critical roll. In his words, Black Powder hit a sweet spot of simple, easy to remember mechanics, along with providing a clear and quick outcome.

To ensure that he was pushed over the edge, at the end of the day I gave him a present of some gateway drugs, in the form of a box of plastic Warlord Landwehr, to help get him started. Pimp those Prussians.

The next post will feature the latest additions to my Napoleonic collection- once I get them based. It's been a while! 

(And apologies for having to upload this a second time- Blogger was being temperamental and corrupted the previous post when I tried to edit it.)